University of Minnesota researchers found that metformin reduced COVID-19 death risk by 21 to 24 percent in women with COVID-19. The women were already taking the drug to manage their diabetes and blood-sugar levels.
Dr. Christopher Tignanelli, a critical care physician and one of the study’s lead authors, said that the large degree of protective benefit seen was a surprise despite four previous studies having found evidence that metformin helped with COVID-19 recovery.
Metformin did not reduce the death risk of men in the study. Tignanelli said that the difference in mens’ and womens’ results is a biological clue to discovering how to disrupt the SARS-CoV-2 virus. “If we can understand the difference between men and women that really drove this… that gives us a key treatment avenue that we can really go after.”
Tignanelli said that people should not seek metformin for COVID-19 treatment based on the results of this study alone. However, he said, the study results give us hope and new research directions to explore which can help us treat a disease without a vaccine. He said he is eager for a comparative clinical trial into metformin’s efficacy against the disease.
The results were part of one of the world’s largest observational studies of COVID-19 patients. The study also found that diabetes and obesity increased COVID-19 death risks.
The study is based on a UnitedHealthcare database of 73,000 COVID-19 patients. The study focused on 6,000 of the patients with diabetes or obesity. 2,000 of those patients had taken metformin.
Tignanelli says it is his suspicion that metformin treats COVID-19 by reducing inflammation and overly aggressive immune system responses.
The study also found that albuterol displayed potential protective benefits in patients with asthma.
The drugs with the strongest benefit in the study were a class of drugs known as TNF alpha inhibitors. However, Tignanelli said the findings merely created a hypothesis for future study because only 38 patients, a small sample size, took those drugs in the study group.
The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Tignanelli said the decision was made to release the study information early because of the need for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic. The research has been submitted to medical journals for formal publication.
Metformin has been in the news lately as five manufacturers have recalled lots of the drug due to contamination with NDMA, a probable carcinogen.