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Data science finds new potential COVID treatments

Could a common over-the-counter antacid be a potential treatment for COVID-19? An analysis of data in some 23,000 health records from more than 30 countries has shown that the odds of progressing to severe outcomes of COVID-19 appear to be diminished for people taking the drug famotidine (found in Pepcid and Zantac), and even more so with famotidine and aspirin together.

The research, conducted by an international team including UVA School of Data Science Dean Phil Bourne and senior scientist Cameron Mura, used data science tools to sift through the vast trove of information contained in the health records. The large volume of data allowed them to look for any possible correlations between the severity of illness in COVID patients and other details in their records, including such things as age, weight, medications they take or where they live.

The scientists stress that the results from their research are not conclusive and would need to be confirmed through clinical trials. Nevertheless, this work demonstrates the potential for large-scale data to transform the future of medicine by being able to sort through enormous volumes of information to reveal unexpected connections and serendipitous discoveries. “It’s a very large haystack,” Bourne says, “but there are a lot of needles, too.”