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FDA authorizes chloroquine for use in treating coronavirus

Published Mar 30th, 2020 9:46AM EDT
Coronavirus Vaccine
Image: John Minchillo/AP/Shutterstock

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  • The FDA issued an emergency authorization of anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus treatment, as a vaccine is at least a year away.
  • Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine were brought to the public’s attention by President Trump’s recent remarks, and they have shown promise in COVID-19 therapy in a few limited studies.
  • COVID-19 patients aren’t advised to self-medicate; they should seek proper medical attention if they suspect a coronavirus infection.
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

The anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have come to the public’s attention following Trump’s recent remarks. The president said a few days ago that he felt “good” about them when it comes to treating the novel coronavirus, urging the FDA to speed up their use in COVID-19 therapies. Since then, we’ve heard of all sorts of things about the drugs. A man killed himself ingesting the wrong type of chloroquine-based chemical, and another coronavirus patient thinks the drug saved his life. On top of that, the World Health Organization (WHO) included the two drugs into a massive worldwide trial that’s looking at four different types of therapies that could speed up the recovery of COVID-19 patients. It’s no wonder that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally issued an emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine related to coronavirus treatment.

HHS said in a statement that the FDA allowed the drugs to be “donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalized teen and adult patients with COVID-19, as appropriate, when a clinical trial is not available or feasible,” according to Politico. Sandoz donated 30 million doses of hydroxychloroquine to the stockpile, with Bayer providing another one million doses.

FDA’s emergency authorization means that more companies will be able to produce it or donate it. Aside from coronavirus patients, some chronic patients need hydroxychloroquine treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Politico says that a growing number of patients have been unable to fill their prescriptions because of shortages, and reports have emerged that some physicians have been hoarding the drug for themselves.

Trump on Friday again pushed for speed at the expense of caution regarding the treatment. “I think Tony would disagree with me … [but] we have a pandemic, we have people dying now,” Trump said, adding that he’s been frustrated by the FDA’s response. “They indicated that we’ll start working on it right away. It could take a year. I said what do you mean a year? We have to have it tonight.”

The science backing chloroquine therapy for coronavirus cases isn’t there yet, but studies from France and China have shown promising results. Those first studies are limited in scope, and there’s at least one other study in China that says chloroquine therapy wasn’t better than conventional care.

As before, we’ll stress the fact that you can’t prevent a coronavirus infection by taking a drug you may have heard of on TV. People have tried doing it and poisoned themselves in Nigeria. Any chloroquine treatment should be performed by healthcare professionals in hospitals, not at home. The same goes for any other COVID-19 therapy that you might have heard of.

In an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, former governor of Kansas, Dr. Jeffrey Colyer touted the advantages of hydroxychloroquine (HC) when combined with azithromycin (AZ) to treat patients with advanced COVID-19 cases:

Since [last week], Kansas City area physicians, including Joe Brewer, Dan Hinthorn and me, continue to treat many patients, and some have shown improvement. Major medical centers including the University of Washington and Mass General have added hydroxychloroquine to treatment options.

Colyer is also the chairman of the National Advisory Commission on Rural Health, having been appointed about a month ago.

The doctor described the drugs and referred some of the positive results in the limited studies from France and China, without providing any specific details of his own experience with the drug other than they use the regiment reported in France. Colyer also noted that New York state has started a large controlled clinical trial of the same therapy. The op-ed makes no mention of the Chinese study saying that chloroquine isn’t effective that Bloomberg surfaced last week. But it does offer information on potential side-effects.

A week earlier, Colyer and Hinthorn authored an op-ed in the Journal where they explained how they’re treating COVID-19 patients of their own:

With our colleague Dr. Joe Brewer in Kansas City, Mo., we are using hydroxychloroquine in two ways: to treat patients and as prophylaxis to protect health-care workers from infection.

We had been using the protocol outlined in the research from China, but we’ve switched to the combination prescribed in the French study. Our patients appear to be showing fewer symptoms.

The Chinese protocol referred above is also mentioned in the article, complete with dosage:

On March 9 a team of researchers in China published results showing hydroxychloroquine was effective against the 2019 coronavirus in a test tube. The authors suggested a five-day, 12-pill treatment for Covid-19: two 200-milligram tablets twice a day on the first day followed by one tablet twice a day for four more days.

One way to read these op-eds is that you can prevent COVID-19 by treating yourself using off-the-shelf meds combined with dosage used in China or elsewhere, a dosage that’s plainly advertised in articles. That’s absolutely not the way about curing COVID-19.

Separately, a report from France’s Le Point said on Monday that chloroquine use in coronavirus patients lead to cardiac toxicity and cardiac arrests. The report talks about several fatal cases, without providing any figures.

If you don’t experience symptoms, keep respecting social distancing measures. If you do, then contact your doctor for guidance.

At least two coronavirus vaccines are in trials right now, in the US and China, with the WHO working on at least 20 additional candidates. Some of these vaccines will be ready for healthcare workers this fall at the earliest, with the general population expected to get it anywhere between 12 months to 18 months.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.