The World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is pausing clinical trials on the use of the controversial malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, to treat patients with COVID-19. This was one of four experimental treatments being investigated by the organization and has been under intense scrutiny for some time after it was championed by tech mogul Elon Musk and US President Donald Trump.
“The executive group has implemented a temporary pause of the hydroxychloroquine arm within the Solidarity trial while the safety data is reviewed by the data safety monitoring board,” says Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO director-general, during a press briefing.
This “Solidarity trial” is the WHO’s global investigation into experimental treatments for COVID-19 – including hydroxychloroquine, as well as HIV-ARV medicine lopinavir and broad-spectrum anti-viral remdesivir, as well as interferon beta-1a.
According to CNET, Ghebreyesus confirmed investigations into the other treatments are continuing and notes, importantly that, hydroxychloroquine is “accepted as generally safe in patients with autoimmune diseases and malaria”. He does not say whether it is safe or not with patients with COVID-19.
“The decision to temporally halt the Solidarity trial for Hydroxychloroquine and to review the safety data in patients that underwent this trial is expected and logical,” says Gaetan Burgio, a geneticist at the Australian National University. “This will enable the researchers to determine whether it is safe to continue this very large clinical trial on over 60 countries and 3,500 patients.”
President Trump has previously confirmed reports that he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative treatment for COVID-19 on 18 May, though there is no evidence currently that supports claims that it can prevent people from catching the coronavirus.
On 22 May a study published in The Lancet, one of the world’s most respected and prestigious medical journals, found in a study, of almost 15,000 COVID-19 patients, that those that were taking the hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die in hospital and suffered heart problems.
Currently, researchers are still looking to understand how hydroxychloroquine may benefit patients with COVID-19, including in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin and zinc. There are more than 160 hydroxychloroquine trials ongoing, with the majority assessing the effects of the drug in battling COVID-19 infection, according to the National Institutes of Health’s clinical trial website.
Some of these trials are run separately to the WHO’s Solidarity trial and are likely to continue.
Edited by Luis Monzon
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