Metformin associated with reduced COVID-19 death risk in women, study shows

Researchers have found that women taking metformin prior to hospitalisation had a significantly reduced risk of death from COVID-19.

Metformin could treat COVID-19

Researchers have found that metformin was associated with significantly reduced COVID-19 death risks in women in one of the world’s largest observational studies of COVID-19 patients.

The study was conducted at the University of Minnesota Medical School and UnitedHealth Group, both US. 

Metformin is an established, generic medication for managing blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. It also reduces inflammation proteins like TNF-alpha that appear to make COVID-19 worse.

The team analysed about 6,000 individuals with type 2 diabetes or obesity who were hospitalised with COVID-19 and assessed whether or not metformin use was associated with decreased mortality. They found an association that women with diabetes or obesity, who were hospitalised for COVID-19 disease and who had filled a 90-day metformin prescription before hospitalisation, had a 21 to 24 percent reduced likelihood of mortality compared to similar women not taking the medication. There was no significant reduction in mortality among men.

“Observational studies like this cannot be conclusive, but contribute to growing bodies of evidence. Seeing a bigger association with protection in women over men may point towards inflammation reduction as a key way that metformin reduces risk from COVID-19. However, more research is needed,” said principal investigator Assistant Professor Carolyn Bramante. 

“While effective therapies to mitigate the harm of the SARS-CoV-2 virus are being developed, it is important that we also look to and evaluate commonly used medications with good safety profiles for their potential to combat the virus,” said Dr Deneen Vojta, from UnitedHealth Group.

According to the researchers, the results provide new directions for research against COVID-19. In collaboration with Assistant Professor Christopher Tignanelli, Bramante submitted an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use of metformin for COVID-19 treatment and prevention, which was approved.

Bramante and Tignanelli received a donation from the Parsemus Foundation to conduct a multi-site prospective, randomised pilot study. This pilot trial will begin enrolling patients next week and will potentially lead into a larger trial.

The results were published in The Lancet Healthy Longevity.