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  • Hydroxychloroquine has shown activity in vitro against many viruses, but it failed to translate into success in animals or humans.

    Hydroxychloroquine has shown activity in vitro against many viruses, but it failed to translate into success in animals or humans. | Photo: AFP

Published 26 April 2020 (8 hours 2 minutes ago)
Opinion

The FDA advised doctors against using the drug outside of protocols because of reports of serious side effects.

At least 22 states and Washington, D.C. obtained about 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, a medication used to cure malaria and promoted by United States (U.S.) President Donald Trump to treat COVID-19, The Associated Press (AP) reported Saturday.

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While health authorities have been warning that more research is still needed, Oklahoma spent US$2 million to buy the drugs, and Utah and Ohio spent hundreds of thousands on purchases. The rest of the cities and states received free shipments from drug companies or the U.S. government. 

Several states including New York, Connecticut, Oregon, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas received donations of the hydroxychloroquine from a New Jersey private company called Amneal Pharmaceutical, which declined to answer questions from AP. Florida was given one million doses from Israeli company Teva Pharmaceutical.

On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advised doctors against using the drug outside of protocols because of reports of serious side effects, including dangerous irregular heart rhythms and death among patients.

Dr. Kenneth B. Klein, a consultant working for drug companies to design and evaluate their clinical trials said it’s understandable that government and health officials looked into hydroxychloroquine as a possible remedy during a frightening pandemic.

“The states and the federal government are reacting in light of that fear. But it’s not a rational response,” Klein said

Controversy has arisen around the medication since Trump started praising it in the White House briefing room on March 19. But for the past week, as studies have shown mixed or even harmful results, Trump has gone silent on the drug.

On Thursday, he said he hadn’t heard of a study done at U.S. veterans hospitals with preliminary results that showed no benefit, and rejected the notion he had stopped promoting hydroxychloroquine as a cure.

“I haven’t at all. I haven’t at all,” Trump said. “We’ll see what happens.”

Hydroxychloroquine has shown activity in vitro against many viruses, including influenza and coronaviruses, but that has failed to translate into success in animals or humans, Christopher Tignanelli, a surgeon at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who is involved in clinical trials of COVID-19 treatments told The Lancet.

“There is not a huge amount of pre-clinical data for this drug,” Tignanelli said. “It's mostly test-tube and anecdote.”

Yet, the absence of evidence did not prevent some people of using hydroxychloroquine to self-medicate. Cases of poisoning have been reported in Nigeria and the U.S.

Moreover, the sudden interest in the drug led to reports of shortages for patients who rely on it to treat their autoimmune disease, the medical journal reported.

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