WHO to resume coronavirus trials for controversial drug hydroxychloroquine

WHO to resume coronavirus trials for controversial drug hydroxychloroquine
Trials of the drug touted by US President Donald Trump had earlier been paused amid concerns it could increase the risk of death among coronavirus patients.
3 min read
03 June, 2020
Hydroxychloroquine is normally use to treat arthritis and malaria [Getty]
The World Health Organisation announced on Wednesday that clinical trials of the drug hydroxychloroquine will resume as it searches for potential coronavirus treatments.

The decision to resume trials comes despite a major new study indicating the drug is ineffective in the treatment on Covid-19.

On May 25, the WHO announced it had temporarily suspended the trials to conduct a safety review, which has now concluded there is "no reason" to change the way the trials are conducted.

The UN health agency's decision came after a study published in The Lancet medical journal suggesting the drug could increase the risk of death among Covid-19 patients.

The executive group of the so-called Solidarity Trial - in which hundreds of hospitals across the world have enrolled patients to test several possible treatments for the novel coronavirus -took the decision as a precaution.

Hydroxychloroquine is normally used to treat arthritis and malaria but public figures including US President Donald Trump have backed the drug for Covid-19 prevention and treatment, prompting governments to bulk-buy.

"Last week, the executive group of the Solidarity Trial decided to implement a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm of the trial, because of concerns raised about the safety of the drug," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news briefing.

"This decision was taken as a precaution while the safety data were reviewed.

"On the basis of the available mortality data, the members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol.

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"The executive group received this recommendation and endorsed continuation of all arms of the Solidarity Trial, including hydroxychloroquine."

More than 3,500 patients have been recruited across 35 countries to take part in the trials.

On Wednesday, researchers from the University of Minnesota published the results of the first major clinical trial looking gauging the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine versus a placebo in the treatment of the Covid-19 disease.

Researchers tested more than 800 people who had either been recently exposed to the virus or lived in a high-risk household.

The study found that 11.8 percent of subjects given hydroxychloroquine developed coronavirus-like symptoms, compared to 14.3 percent who received a placebo. The difference was not statistically significant, the researchers said, meaning the drug was no better than a placebo.

"Our data is pretty clear that for post exposure, this does not really work," Dr. David Boulware, the trial's lead researcher, said according to Reuters.

However, Boulware said the trial found no evidence for claims hydroxychloroquine could be dangerous for patients.

"I think both sides - one side who is saying 'this is a dangerous drug' and the other side that says 'this works' - neither is correct," he said.

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