London: A UK study of hydroxychloroquine for treatment of Covid-19 was halted after an early analysis found no benefit, the biggest blow yet for the therapy touted by U.S. President Donald Trump.
Initial results from the trial clearly show the antimalarial drug doesn’t reduce the risk of death among hospitalized patients with the disease, the investigators said in a statement on the University of Oxford’s website. About 26% of patients in the trial getting the drug died, compared with about 24% receiving standard care.
“Although it is disappointing that this treatment has been shown to be ineffective, it does allow us to focus care and research on more promising drugs,” said Peter Horby, an Oxford professor and chief investigator for the trial.
Questions have been swirling around hydroxychloroquine after a study in The Lancet that linked the drug to heart risks and death was retracted by its authors. Now the Oxford trial, which compares the impact of a few well-known drugs in thousands of Covid-19 patients, appears to have dashed any hopes of benefit for those who are ill enough to be in the hospital.
Also read: France seeks answers from Lancet about controversial HCQ study it published
Following the initial publication of The Lancet report last month, the World Health Organization temporarily halted the hydroxychloroquine portion of a comparative trial of potential Covid-19 therapies, before restarting it.
The WHO said it had been in contact with the Oxford team on Friday and was looking closely at the results, but its trial will continue for now.
“The fact is, it is quite normal to have slightly different results coming out from different trials,” WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said at a briefing. “And that is why the scientific world normally wants more than one trial for a particular drug or vaccine.”
The Oxford trial is a multi-armed study evaluating and comparing the impact of a number of treatments on Covid-19. While patients are randomly assigned to receive one of the drugs or standard care, a panel checks the results about every two weeks to see whether a treatment is showing signs of success or failure.
Full results will be made available as soon as possible, they wrote. The independent monitoring committee conducted a further review of the data in response to a request from the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Trump, after more than a dozen tweets or retweets endorsing the drug, said he took a course of hydroxychloroquine as a precaution. But the treatment has stumbled, with some other studies triggering controversy.
A separate study — the first scientifically rigorous analysis of the drug’s potential to ward off the pathogen — showed earlier this week that the drug failed to offer protection to people at high risk of infection. Half of the subjects were given hydroxychloroquine for five days, while the other half received a placebo pill that contained the vitamin folate. After two weeks, 12% of those taking the drug had developed an infection, compared with 14% given placebo, a difference the researchers said could have been due to chance. – Bloomberg
Also read: Lancet HCQ study row: Did WHO, experts rush to damn the drug due to Trump, Modi politics?