A diabetes drug costing just pennies per dose is being investigated as a potential treatment for coronavirus by medics in China and the USA.
Metformin, which costs 3p per tablet and is already dispensed by the NHS, is also emerging as an effective treatment for breast cancer and heart disease.
Doctors in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the Covid-19 was first diagnosed, have published a study showing diabetics taking metformin were much less likely to die than those not treated with the drug.
Research conducted at the University of Minnesota also found the drug may be helpful in reducing the risks of coronavirus deaths, the Daily Star reports.
Scientists claim the drug reduces the inflammatory response in the body, which could be key to beating Covid-19, as inflammation and subsequent cytokine storm are among the main causes of death.
The news comes after researchers discovered easily available steroid dexamethasone cuts deaths from coronavirus by up to a third among patients on ventilators, and by a fifth for those on oxygen.
Drug therapies are seen as the best method to control the spread of coronavirus until a vaccine is found.
Metformin has the advantage of being cheap and widely available, and so could be distributed to poorer countries.
Studies have found it also helps obese people lose weight even if they don’t have diabetes and claim the drug could help fight breast cancer.
Suzy Birket believes she survived the deadly disease after taking the drug as part of a trial at the private Care Oncology Clinic in London.
Doctors found metformin improved the effectiveness of conventional cancer drugs, as well as disrupting cancer cell signals.
Suzy told the Daily Mail: “It’s a very powerful treatment but it’s been slow to catch on. Who’s going to pay for big trials for regulatory approval when there is no profit at the end? Metformin is dirt cheap.”
Evidence also suggests the pill could help with other conditions which affect older people.