The malaria drug once touted by President Donald Trump as a “game-changing” treatment for COVID-19 when taken along with azithromycin exhibited no benefit in actually treating the disease when compared to a control group, according to a study of VA patients. Researchers posted the study to medRxiv, a pre-print server for health sciences that distributes unpublished clinical research manuscripts. According to Politico, the study has also been submitted to the New England Journal of Medicine, but has yet to receive peer review.
The work was paid for with grants from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Virginia, per Politico.
In all, 368 patients took part in the study, which served to analyze the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients in U.S. veterans hospitals. Researchers’ aim was to discover the efficacy of the drug, taken in tandem with azithromycin as well as on its own. The results of that analysis showed there were actually more patient deaths among those treated solely with hydroxychloroquine when compared to those who didn’t receive the drug as part of their treatment plan.
Although the study wasn’t a rigorous experiment, it represents the largest examination of chloroquine as a potential treatment for COVID-19 to date.
“In this study, we found no evidence that use of hydroxychloroquine, either with or without azithromycin, reduced the risk of mechanical ventilation in patients hospitalized with COVID-19. An association of increased overall mortality was identified in patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone. These findings highlight the importance of awaiting the results of ongoing prospective, randomized, controlled studies before widespread adoption of these drugs.”
In mid-March, Trump signaled that hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin treatment had been a significant breakthrough in the coronavirus pandemic and urged the FDA to make the treatment available “immediately” via Twitter. He did so in spite of the lack of any significant study of the methodology.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has pointed out that the evidence supporting Trump’s initial claim is lacking, as reported by The Guardian. He has consistently maintained that more research is needed into the efficacy of the drug before it is adopted as a potential treatment.
A chloroquine study in Brazil was scrapped when its subjects grew severely ill, with some of the cases resulting in death. That study was set to examine the outcomes of 81 patients who had been hospitalized due to COVID-19 infection in the Brazilian city of Manaus. By the sixth day of the project, 11 patients who had been in a higher-dose study group had died of cardiac arrhythmia.