Malaria drug no better than regular coronavirus care, study says

Researchers concluded that additional studies using larger numbers of patients are needed to fully investigate the drug's risks and benefits.
Researchers concluded that additional studies using larger numbers of patients are needed to fully investigate the drug's risks and benefits.PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - Hydroxychloroquine, a medicine for malaria that US President Donald Trump has touted as a treatment for coronavirus, was no more effective than conventional care, a small study found.

The report from researchers at Zhejiang University in China showed that patients who got the medicine didn't fight off the new coronavirus more often than those who did not get the medicine.

The study involved just 30 patients. Of the 15 patients given the malaria drug, 13 tested negative for the coronavirus after a week of treatment. Of the 15 patients who didn't get hydroxychloroquine, 14 tested negative for the virus.

The results of the study weren't statistically significant.

Hydroxychloroquine, particularly when given with the antibiotic azithromycin, has received widespread attention following a controversial, small study of 26 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 in France.

In that study, the drug appeared to help clear the virus from their bodies, based on samples taken from nasal swabs. Experts have criticised the design of the study, calling it interesting but far from definitive.

Mr Trump has said several times that he is confident the medicine will work. On Saturday (March 21), vice-president Mike Pence also touted the drug at a White House event.

"Doctors can now prescribe chloroquine for that off-label purpose of dealing with the symptoms of coronavirus," Mr Pence said. "The president's very optimistic."

Top scientists, including White House coronavirus task force member Dr Anthony Fauci, have called reports that hydroxychloroquine might work anecdotal, and said they need further study before the pill's use is encouraged.

 
 

It's already being given to many hospitalised patients in New York, and larger trials are starting - part of a broad effort to find anything that might work against the illness.

In the Chinese study, one patient treated with the malaria drug progressed to severe disease during the study. Four patients given the medicine developed diarrhoea and signs of potential liver damage, compared with three getting conventional treatment.

The researchers concluded that additional studies using larger numbers of patients are needed to fully investigate the drug's risks and benefits.