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Study finds no benefit hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19

Wednesday May 13 2020
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Most pharmacies and chemists revealed a sudden spike in demand for the prescription medication hydroxychloroquine. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ELIZABETH MERAB

New data around hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug, shows that it had no beneficial effects on the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) patients.

The drug had been touted as a potential wonder drug to treat Covid-19, with US President Donald Trump calling it a possible "game-changer", especially in combination with an antibiotic azithromycin.

As such, Kenyans depleted available stocks in pharmacies and pharmaceutical companies in India suspended global exports of the molecules of the drugs.

But in a sober assessment, the drug largely failed to deliver improvements on other key measures when evaluated in rigorous research studies.

Coronavirus patients taking hydroxychloroquine were no less likely to need mechanical ventilation and had higher deaths rates compared to those who did not take the drug, according to a study of hundreds of patients at US Veterans Health Administration medical centers.

As a result, a National Institutes of Health panel in the US this week advised its doctors not to use the drug combination. The guidelines, published online, are meant to guide doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals treating patients with Covid-19, the NIH said.

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Both chloroquine and its close relative hydroxychloroquine offered signs that they may ease some of the hallmark symptoms of coronavirus infection in patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19.

Although the drugs have shown some evidence of being effective against the virus that causes Covid-19, either in the lab and/or animal studies, more and more studies have shown that the drug combination may do little or no good and may increase the rate of other complications.

In research done in France, hydroxychloroquine reduced neither deaths nor admissions to intensive care units among patients who received it. In a study conducted in China and another in Brazil, the two drugs failed to help patients clear the coronavirus faster.

A total of 181 patients took part in the clinical trials as reported in the study titled 'No evidence of clinical efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in patients hospitalised for Covid-19 infection and requiring oxygen: results of a study using routinely collected data to emulate a target trial.'

“We found that HCQ (hydroxychloroquine) treatment at 600 mg per day added to standard of care was not associated with a reduction of admissions to Intensive Care Units or death seven days after hospital admission, compared to standard of care alone,” states the study published by MedRxiv.

And in Brazil, two deaths and a rash of heart troubles among patients who got a high dose of chloroquine prompted a hasty alteration of the trial thereafter just 13 days. Concluding that “enough red flags” had been raised, the researchers halted testing of the drug in its extra-strength form.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last month launched a multinational trial on a variety of repurposed drugs in the search for a treatment for Covid-19.

Clinical trials for the drugs will be undertaken in several countries to find potential therapies. The four drugs or combinations to be tested are antiviral drug remdesivir, a combination of HIV drugs lopinavir and ritonavir; a combination of lopinavir and ritonavir plus interferon-beta; and the antimalarial drug chloroquine.

A US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study found that severe patients treated with antimalarial hydroxychloroquine alone or in combination with antibiotic azithromycin showed "no evidence" of reduced risk of death or mechanical ventilation over supportive care, according to data posted Tuesday.

In a small-scale analysis of 368 Covid-19 patients treated in hospitals, researchers found there was no significant difference in ventilation risk for all three cohorts. Meanwhile, patients treated with hydroxychloroquine alone showed a significantly higher risk of all-cause mortality over either supportive care of a combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin.

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