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Disulfiram associated with lower risk of Covid-19: a retrospective cohort study

By Nathanael Fillmore, Steven Bell, Ciyue Shen, Vinh Nguyen, Jennifer La, Maureen Dubreuil, Judith Strymish, Mary Brophy, Gautam Mehta, Hao Wu, Judy Lieberman, Nhan Do, Chris Sander

Posted 12 Mar 2021
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2021.03.10.21253331

In the global COVID-19 pandemic, there is a substantial need for effective, low-cost therapeutics. We investigated the potential effects of disulfiram on the incidence and outcomes of COVID-19 in an observational study in a large database of US Veterans Administration clinical records, the VA Corporate Data Warehouse (CDW). The study is motivated by the unique properties of disulfiram, which has been used as an anti-alcoholism drug since 1948, is non-toxic, easy to manufacture and inexpensive. Disulfiram reduces hyperinflammation in mammalian cells by inhibition of the gasdermin D pore. In a mouse model of sepsis, disulfiram reduced inflammatory cytokines and mortality. Disulfiram also is a low micromolar inhibitor of the Mpro and PLpro viral proteases of SARS-CoV-2. To investigate the potential effects of disulfiram on the incidence and severity of COVID-19, we carried out an epidemiological study in the CDW. The VA dataset used has 944,127 patients tested for SARS-Cov-2, 167,327 with a positive test, and 2,233 on disulfiram, of which 188 had a positive SARS-Cov-2 test. A multivariable Cox regression adjusted for age, gender, race/ethnicity, region, a diagnosis of alcohol use disorders, and Charlson comorbidity score revealed a reduced incidence of COVID-19 with disulfiram use with a hazard ratio of 0.66 and 95% confidence interval of 0.57 to 0.76 (P < 0.001). There were no deaths among the 188 SARS-Cov-2 positive patients treated with disulfiram. The expected number of deaths would have been 5-6 according to the 3% death rate among the untreated (P-value 0.03). Our finding of a lower hazard ratio and less severe outcomes for COVID-19 in patients treated with disulfiram compared to those not treated is a statistical association and does not prove any causative effect of disulfiram. However, the results of this study suggest that there is a pharmacological contribution to the reduced incidence and severity of COVID-19 with the use of disulfiram. Given the known anti-inflammatory and viral anti-protease effects of disulfiram, it is reasonable and urgent to initiate accelerated clinical trials to assess whether disulfiram reduces SARS-CoV-2 infection, disease severity and death.

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