- More coronavirus hydroxychloroquine study results are coming in, and they all seem to confirm previous research.
- The virus is not effective at treating COVID-19 patients, a large clinical trial from the UK shows.
- Two distinct studies analyzing the drug’s ability to prevent an infection with the novel coronavirus also revealed there’s no evidence the anti-malarial has any prophylactic capabilities against COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine is the unlikely star of the novel coronavirus pandemic for all the wrong reasons. If it wasn’t for Trump’s continued endorsement of the anti-malarial, the drug would be just another medicine that doctors attempted to use on COVID-19 patients. There are many like it. Some work, others don’t. But none of the other potential coronavirus cures that are in clinical trials received the same amount of attention from the public and health officials.
When used to treat malaria and other diseases, hydroxychloroquine is effective and safe. But the proposed course of treatment for COVID-19 requires patients to take an increased dosage, which could lead to severe side effects on the heart or even result in death. A study in The Lancet a few weeks ago seemed to deliver the final blow to hydroxychloroquine, as researchers said the drug makes COVID-19 worse for patients. That study was then retracted as some of the co-authors could not verify the authenticity of the dataset.
Some 15,000 of 96,000 COVID-19 patients were treated with hydroxychloroquine, according to that paper. It’s those figures that prompted authorities from Australia, France, UK, and the World Health Organization to pause their independent hydroxychloroquine studies. Some of these studies were resumed after the retraction of The Lancet study, and we now have more papers that say hydroxychloroquine isn’t effective at treating or preventing COVID-19.
ScienceMag detailed the new research, saying the “big studies” make it clear that the drug can’t treat or prevent infection.
Two of them concern prevention, including a study that we’ve already covered. Researchers surveyed 821 people in a postexposure prophylaxis (PEP) study and found that 12% of the people who took the drug were infected compared to 14% for the placebo group. That’s not a big enough difference to be statistically significant.
The second PEP study is even bigger, including 2,300 people from Barcelona, Spain. The country had one of the biggest COVID-19 outbreaks a few months ago, rivaling only Italy at the time. To date, nearly 290,000 Spaniards have been infected, and more than 27,000 people in Spain have died. The study randomized hydroxychloroquine and standard COVID-19 care for the cohort, with researchers concluding that there was no significant difference between the people in each group who were infected.
Trump said a few weeks ago he was on a hydroxychloroquine regimen after two White House staffers were infected, and said he would take it again in the future if necessary. Researchers who looked at hydroxychloroquine prescriptions during the early months of the pandemic found that an increasing number of people bought the drug at the time when Trump was praising it on TV.
Researchers from Britain released another big hydroxychloroquine study a few days ago based on the country’s Recovery trial. A group of 1,542 hospitalized patients received the anti-malarial, and 3,132 patients were treated with standard care. The researchers found that 25.7% of the hydroxychloroquine group died within 28 days, compared to 23.5% for the control group. This is another clear indication that hydroxychloroquine doesn’t work on COVID-19, but there is a caveat to the study worth mentioning.
The high mortality rates for the two groups may indicate that these patients were already very sick when hydroxychloroquine treatment began. If that’s the case, then other researchers may be motivated to trial different hydroxychloroquine-based therapies. Some researchers will want access to the full data set to evaluate the findings, ScienceMag reports.
“If you, your spouse, your mother gets admitted to hospital and is offered hydroxychloroquine, don’t take it.” Martin Landray, one of the study’s principal researchers, told ScienceMag.
The new findings could affect other research, with Landray saying that even the WHO might want to shut down the hydroxychloroquine arm of its Solidarity trial. WHO told ScienceMag that it’s considering doing that.