​Ketotifen, a drug that has been used for over 30 years as an asthma and allergy medicine, is now being tested to treat symptoms of dengue fever. 

 NUS and Duke-NUS have collaborated with NUH and SGH to run a new clinical trial called KETODEN to test the drug on dengue-infected patients.  

Ketotifen is traditionally used to reduce the incidence of asthma and allergy attacks.   One of the symptoms of asthma is vascular leakage, which is the movement of fluid in the body that occurs when blood vessels are damaged. This is caused by the activation of the mast cell, a certain type of immune cell. Ketotifen helps to stop vascular leakage by blocking the mast cell. 

Vascular leakage is also a key factor in causing more severe forms of dengue to develop. 

A team from the Duke-NUS Emerging Infectious Disease Programme has found that mast cells react strongly to dengue virus infection, releasing pro-inflammatory proteins which may cause vascular leakage.   If vascular leakage is excessive or uncontrolled, it can lead to dengue haemorrhagic fever or dengue with complications.

If Ketotifen can block mast cell activation in dengue just like it can for asthma, it may be able to block some of the more severe symptoms of dengue.  

KETODEN seeks to determine if the drug can safely alleviate the complications stemmed from the virus.   There is neither any approved medicine for the treatment of dengue fever, nor any approved treatment to prevent vascular leakage during dengue fever currently.   

The collaborators of this trial at Duke-NUS, NUS, NUH and SGH are hopeful that Ketotifen will prove to be an effective treatment for dengue, especially for a region that urgently needs one.  

Dengue is an endemic disease in many parts of the world. Just last year, Singapore saw almost 900 dengue cases a week during peak months. There have already been almost 3000 cases of dengue fever this year.