Coronavirus Outbreak: Hydroxychloroquine trials offer glimmer of hope, but experts warn drug is no magic bullet

Hydroxychloroquine — a less toxic derivative of choloroquine (also an anti-malarial drug) — has been prescribed by doctors for decades. It is relatively cheap, widely-manufactured and its side effects are well known.

FP Staff March 23, 2020 18:47:32 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Hydroxychloroquine trials offer glimmer of hope, but experts warn drug is no magic bullet

With the coronvirus causing more and more lockdowns around the world and a potential vaccine being 12 to 18 months away, many in the public are hoping for a magic bullet.

As countries around the world race to find a cure, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has recommended the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for treatment of COVID-19 in cases where patients are at high risk.

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A coronavirus sample. Image courtesy: Elizabeth R. Fischer/National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases.

Hydroxychloroquine — a  less toxic derivative of choloroquine (also an anti-malarial drug) — has been prescribed by doctors for decades. It is relatively cheap, widely-manufactured and its side effects are well known.

The drug first came into the limelight when US president Donald Trump, in a press conference Thursday, touted its benefits in fighting the coronavirus and erroneously stated that it had been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Trump's comments were immediately disavowed by the agency which told Bloomberg  the drug had not been approved for coronavirus patients.

Trials offer hope

As per a report in Forbesthe US president seemed to be speaking positively based on a small study conducted by researchers in France. As per the study, 14 of 20 patients treated with hydroxychloroquine tested negative for the virus at day 6, as were all six patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin.

While the study showed there was some upside in prescribing hydroxychloroquine, others point to serious flaws.  As per a report in Vox, researchers examined only 36 patients, of which 26 received the drug. And the study wasn’t blinded, meaning the patients knew what they were getting, nor was it randomised, which limits the scientific merit of the study, as per the report.

Meanwhile, Chinese researchers have conducted lab cell culture tests showing hydroxychloroquine can slow infections from the virus behind COVID-19 , SARS-CoV-2, blocking it from entering cells. Some doctors in China and South Korea have also used it to treat patients, as per the Vox report.

Experts cautious

In Jordan, authorities have authorised the use of the drug but only on "compassionate grounds." Dr Hayel Obeidat, the head of Jordan's Food and Drug Administration, told Al Jazeera, "Hydroxychloroquine should only be used as part of a treatment protocol with other antiviral components with doctors' supervision. It is not a prevention mechanism."  Obeidat added that the treatment should be for "compassionate use" for patients who are in stage 2 of the disease or suffer serious complications.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top expert on infectious disease, has said the evidence of hydroxychloroquine curing the coronavirus was 'anecdotal'. He later told CNN "there's no magic drug."

Dr Janet Diaz, a WHO official similarly told Forbes: “For chloroquine there is no proof that that is an effective treatment at this time. We recommend that therapeutics be tested under ethically approved clinical trials to show efficacy and safety.”

As per a report in The Times of India, hydroxychloroquine is currently under investigation in clinical trials for the pre-exposure or post-exposure treatment of patients with mild, moderate and severe COVID-19 . While some trials have shown promise, far more research is needed before the drug can be widely administered, as per the report.

And thus the reason why the ICMR has sought to limit its use.

Updated Date:

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