Background: We and others have previously demonstrated that the endothelium is a primary target of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), and L-arginine has been shown to improve endothelial dysfunction. However, the effects of L-arginine have never been evaluated in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
Methods: This is a parallel-group, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial conducted on patients hospitalized for severe COVID-19. Patients received 1.66 g L-arginine twice a day or placebo, administered orally. The primary efficacy endpoint was a reduction in respiratory support assessed 10 and 20 days after randomization. Secondary outcomes were the length of in-hospital stay, the time to normalization of lymphocyte number, and the time to obtain a negative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for SARS-CoV-2 on nasopharyngeal swab. This clinical trial had been registered at ClinicalTrials.gov, identifier: NCT04637906.
Findings: We present here the results of the initial interim analysis on the first 101 patients. No treatment-emergent serious adverse events were attributable to L-arginine. At 10-day evaluation, 71.1% of patients in the L-arginine arm and 44.4% in the placebo arm (p < 0.01) had the respiratory support reduced; however, a significant difference was not detected 20 days after randomization. Strikingly, patients treated with L-arginine exhibited a significantly reduced in-hospital stay vs placebo, with a median (interquartile range 25th,75th percentile) of 46 days (45,46) in the placebo group vs 25 days (21,26) in the L-arginine group (p < 0.0001); these findings were also confirmed after adjusting for potential confounders including age, duration of symptoms, comorbidities, D-dimer, as well as antiviral and anticoagulant treatments. The other secondary outcomes were not significantly different between groups.
Interpretation: In this interim analysis, adding oral L-arginine to standard therapy in patients with severe COVID-19 significantly decreases the length of hospitalization and reduces the respiratory support at 10 but not at 20 days after starting the treatment.
Funding: Both placebo and L-arginine were kindly provided by Farmaceutici Damor S.p.A., Naples.
Keywords: Arginine; COVID-19; Clinical trial; Coronavirus; Endothelial dysfunction; Immune response; SARS-CoV-2.
© 2021 The Author(s).