New Delhi: US President Donald Trump is actively pushing to repurpose an approved anti-malarial drug to treat the novel coronavirus that so far has no cure.
In a tweet last night, Trump wrote “HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine.”
HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE & AZITHROMYCIN, taken together, have a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. The FDA has moved mountains – Thank You! Hopefully they will BOTH (H works better with A, International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents)…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2020
Speaking at a press briefing, Trump said he is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to eliminate barriers to get therapeutics for coronavirus to patients.
After Italy and China, the US is one of the worst-hit countries with over 26,000 infections and more than 340 deaths so far. Around the world, more than 13,000 people have died from the coronavirus.
In a paper, which has been published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, researchers led by reputed French biologist Didier Raoult from IHU-Méditerranée Infection, Marseille, has shown promising results for the drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus infection. Administered with azithromycin, an antibacterial drug, the drug significantly reduced the viral load in COVID-19 patients, according to the study.
Both drugs have been in use and are available at reasonable costs.
In a separate article published in the journal Cell Discovery, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences wrote that hydroxychloroquine can effectively inhibit SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Scientists advise caution
However, the research currently emerging is limited as clinical trials of much larger scales need to be conducted to conclusively determine the effectiveness of a drug. Moreover, long-term follow-ups are also necessary to study the possible side-effects of the treatment, before it is widely adopted as one.
A number of researchers have been advising that the evidence should be examined with caution, and further research is needed.
Microbiologist Elizabeth Bik, who actively works towards spotting dubious journals, has pointed out some ‘red flags’ that put a question mark on the research paper.
She noted that the peer review was completed in less than a day, which is highly usual. While many research journals are fast-tracking the peer review process to accelerate the hunt for COVID-19 treatments, peer review of a paper usually takes around 80 days.
Bik also noted that one of the authors of the study, Jean-Marc Rolain, is also the editor-in-chief of International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, the journal in which it was published. This may have introduced biases in the review process.
“I do think this is a useful small study that offers a glimmer of hope and is needed in the face of a viral pandemic. But it needs careful peer review and critical thoughts, and confirmation by larger studies. It is too early to assume we have beaten the pandemic,” Bik wrote.
Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also advised caution in interpreting evidence that is anecdotal and said the French study was not a controlled clinical trial.
Initially, chloroquine — which is also an anti-malarial drug — had emerged as the choice drug for large-scale use due to its availability, proven safety record, and relatively low cost.
However, an overdose of this drug can cause acute poisoning and death. In the past years, malaria-causing parasites developed resistance to this drug, and chloroquine began to go out of clinical practice
Its production and market supply was greatly reduced, at least in China. On the other hand hydroxychloroquine, first synthesised in 1946, was safer derivative and is more easily available at present.
Several clinical trials are ongoing in China to test the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine.