A small Brazilian study looking into the efficacy of chloroquine as a treatment for the novel coronavirus was scrapped after some test subjects got severely ill with cardiac issues and some died, The New York Times reports.
The anti-malaria drug chloroquine and its cousin, hydroxychloroquine, have shown some, limited anecdotal evidence that it's useful in treating COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. President Donald Trump has continually touted the drug, often used in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin to treat the disease, and has even called it a "game-changer."
However, scientists have rejected the idea of using the drug combination to treat COVID-19 based on anecdotal evidence, insisting instead that clinical trials must be conducted under scientifically rigorous conditions. Although that's a process that can take months if not years, studies are underway since time is of the essence in the battle against the coronavirus.
A study in Brazil, however, had to be scrapped when test subjects began getting sick and dying after taking high doses of the drug.
Specifically, the study looked at 81 patients who were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in the Brazilian city of Manaus.
Ordinarily, drug trials are conducted with a control group of patients being given a placebo, but in this case, that was not possible due to the ethics of withholding treatment from sick people.
About half of the patients who participated in the study were given a dose of 450 milligrams of chloroquine twice daily for five days, while the rest were prescribed a higher dose of 600 milligrams for 10 days.
Within about three days of the study, the patients taking the higher doses began experiencing irregular heartbeats. By the sixth day, 11 patients in the higher-dose group had died of cardiac arrhythmia.
The study was halted after the sixth day.
Dr. David Juurlink, an internist and the head of the division of clinical pharmacology at the University of Toronto, said that the clear takeaway from this study is that high doses of chloroquine can put the patient at risk of fatal heart complications.
"To me, this study conveys one useful piece of information, which is that chloroquine causes a dose-dependent increase in an abnormality in the ECG that could predispose people to sudden cardiac death," he said.
Back in the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted emergency approval to use the drug combination to treat COVID-19, as previously reported by The Inquisitr. Manufacturers of the drug have begun ramping up production.