A drug that US President Donald Trump has backed as a possible “game changer”, may soon actually lead the fight against the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, which have been used to treat malaria for decades now, have been approved for emergency use by the FDA. Both the drugs have been evaluated in clinical trials across the world.
Hydroxychloroquine along with Azithromycin is being used to treat 1100 patients in New York. As global cases surge to 700,000, the New York City has become a hotspot of the virus that has no treatment or cure. “Let’s see how it works. It may. It may not.”, the president said in his daily briefing Sunday.
An inexpensive drug that has been used since 1955, Hydrocychloroquinine is known to have relatively harmless side effects compared to quinine, the malaria drug developed in the 1930s. In a statement, the US Health and Human services said that the FDA has allowed the drugs to be “donated to the Strategic National Stockpile to be distributed and prescribed by doctors to hospitalised teen and adult patients with COVID-19 as appropriate when a clinical trial is not available or feasible.”
A donation of 30 million dosages of the Hydroxychloroquine has been made by Novartis’s Sandoz to the stockpile while Bayern has donated 1 million doses of Chloroquine.
However, the President’s ardent championing of the drug is only one side of the coin. WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has cautioned against the usage of unproven drugs to treat covid-19. “The history of medicine is strewn with examples of drugs that worked on paper or in test tubes”. The Director General warned that these experiments may not work or actually be harmful for humans.
Career scientists in general have been skeptical of the move to use these synthetic forms of quinine to treat COVID-19. In most cases, the FDA offers emergency approval to medications when the “known and potential” benefits outweigh known and potential risks. Federal officers have also complained that the new course of medication could well move the focus from investigation of more promising therapies to simply using this substitute.
Post the approval, a rush to use these drugs will assuredly lead to shortages. This puts at risk, the patients who have conditions that the drugs are normally used to treat. As a result, in addition to sanitary supplies, these drugs have also begun to be hoarded. Lupus and arthritis patients have complained about unavailability of prescribed drugs.
Globally too, scientists and doctors have come out in favour of using Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for CIVID-19. India, one of the larges global manufacturers of the specific drug, has already banned the export of Hydroxychloroquine to maintain a steady supply.
The pandemic has continued to grow at alarming pace in the US. At the time of writing this piece, the country has reported more than 143,000 positive cases, John Hopkins data said. This comes after the US already surpassed Italy and China to become the country with most number of positive cases.
As health systems around the world experience major strains, the efforts to find a solution to the virus are mounting. A variety of treatments including Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir are currently being tested in various clinical trials.