[Repurposing of chlorpromazine in COVID-19 treatment: the reCoVery study].Encephale. 2020 Jun; 46(3S):S35-S39.E
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic comprises a total of more than 2,350,000 cases and 160,000 deaths. The interest in anti-coronavirus drug development has been limited so far and effective methods to prevent or treat coronavirus infections in humans are still lacking. Urgent action is needed to fight this fatal coronavirus infection by reducing the number of infected people along with the infection contagiousness and severity. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak several weeks ago, we observe in GHU PARIS Psychiatrie & Neurosciences (Sainte-Anne hospital, Paris, France) a lower prevalence of symptomatic and severe forms of COVID-19 infections in psychiatric patients (∼4%) compared to health care professionals (∼14%). Similar observations have been noted in other psychiatric units in France and abroad. Our hypothesis is that psychiatric patients could be protected from severe forms of COVID-19 by their psychotropic treatments. Chlorpromazine (CPZ) is a phenothiazine derivative widely used in clinical routine in the treatment of acute and chronic psychoses. This first antipsychotic medication has been discovered in 1952 by Jean Delay and Pierre Deniker at Sainte-Anne hospital. In addition, to its antipsychotic effects, several in vitro studies have also demonstrated a CPZ antiviral activity via the inhibition of clathrin-mediated endocytosis. Recently, independent studies revealed that CPZ is an anti-MERS-CoV and an anti-SARS-CoV-1 drug. In comparison to other antiviral drugs, the main advantages of CPZ lie in its biodistribution: (i) preclinical and clinical studies have reported a high CPZ concentration in the lungs (20-200 times higher than in plasma), which is critical because of the respiratory tropism of SARS-CoV-2; (ii) CPZ is highly concentrated in saliva (30-100 times higher than in plasma) and could therefore reduce the contagiousness of COVID-19; (iii) CPZ can cross the blood-brain barrier and could therefore prevent the neurological forms of COVID-19.
Our hypothesis is that CPZ could decrease the unfavorable evolution of COVID-19 infection in oxygen-requiring patients without the need for intensive care, but also reduce the contagiousness of SARS-CoV-2. At this end, we designed a pilot, phase III, multicenter, single blind, randomized controlled clinical trial. Efficacy of CPZ will be assessed according to clinical, biological and radiological criteria. The main objective is to demonstrate a shorter time to response (TTR) to treatment in the CPZ+standard-of-care (CPZ+SOC) group, compared to the SOC group. Response to treatment is defined by a reduction of at least one level of severity on the WHO-Ordinal Scale for Clinical Improvement (WHO-OSCI). The secondary objectives are to demonstrate in the CPZ+SOC group, compared to the SOC group: (A) superior clinical improvement; (B) a greater decrease in the biological markers of viral attack by SARS-CoV-2 (PCR, viral load); (C) a greater decrease in inflammatory markers (e.g. CRP and lymphopenia); (D) a greater decrease in parenchymal involvement (chest CT) on the seventh day post-randomization; (E) to define the optimal dosage of CPZ and its tolerance; (F) to evaluate the biological parameters of response to treatment, in particular the involvement of inflammatory cytokines. Patient recruitment along with the main and secondary objectives are in line with WHO 2020 COVID-19 guidelines.
This repositioning of CPZ as an anti-SARS-CoV-2 drug offers an alternative and rapid strategy to alleviate the virus propagation and the infection severity and lethality. This CPZ repositioning strategy also avoids numerous developmental and experimental steps and can save precious time to rapidly establish an anti-COVID-19 therapy with well-known, limited and easy to manage side effects. Indeed, CPZ is an FDA-approved drug with an excellent tolerance profile, prescribed for around 70 years in psychiatry but also in clinical routine in nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, in advanced cancer and also to treat headaches in various neurological conditions. The broad spectrum of CPZ treatment - including antipsychotic, anxiolytic, antiemetic, antiviral, immunomodulatory effects along with inhibition of clathrin-mediated endocytosis and modulation of blood-brain barrier - is in line with the historical French commercial name for CPZ, i.e. LARGACTIL, chosen as a reference to its "LARGe ACTion" properties. The discovery of those CPZ properties, as for many other molecules in psychiatry, is both the result of serendipity and careful clinical observations. Using this approach, the field of mental illness could provide innovative therapeutic approaches to fight SARS-CoV-2.