Lithium as a candidate treatment for COVID-19: Promises and pitfalls

Drug Dev Res. 2020 Nov;81(7):782-785. doi: 10.1002/ddr.21701. Epub 2020 Jun 10.

Abstract

The pandemic of respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus (SARS-nCoV-2) is a global health crisis. Despite numerous preliminary results, there is as yet no treatment of proven efficacy for this condition. In this context, the pharmacological properties of lithium, better known as a treatment for mood disorders, merit closer examination. Lithium has shown in vitro efficacy at inhibiting the replication of coronaviruses responsible for gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases in animals. It has immunomodulatory properties that may be of additional benefit in moderating the host inflammatory response to the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). Furthermore, there is evidence that lithium may exert a protective action against upper respiratory infections and influenza-like illnesses in patients taking it for other indications. These promising reports must be balanced against the narrow therapeutic index and high risk of toxicity associated with lithium therapy, its documented interactions with several commonly used drugs, and the absence of evidence of its efficacy against coronaviruses responsible for human disease. Nevertheless, naturalistic studies of the risk of COVID-19 in patients already receiving lithium could provide indirect evidence of its efficacy, and understanding the putative antiviral and immune-regulatory mechanisms of lithium in models of SARS-CoV-2 infection may provide leads for the development of safer and more effective treatments with a specific action against COVID-19.

Keywords: COVID-19; lithium; nCoV-2.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • COVID-19 / drug therapy*
  • Lithium / pharmacology
  • Lithium / therapeutic use*
  • Pragmatic Clinical Trials as Topic
  • SARS-CoV-2 / drug effects
  • Treatment Outcome

Substances

  • Antiviral Agents
  • Lithium