Vocal support from Trump for the Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment for coronavirus kicked off a heated debate and raised expectations for the decades-old drug.
The drug was praised to be a cheap and widely available tool in fighting the pandemic by the US president.
More than 6.4 million people have been infected by the virus and over 382,000 have been killed worldwide.
University of Minnesota researchers tested 821 people who had recently been exposed to the virus or lived in a high-risk household.
This is the first major study comparing hydroxychloroquine to a placebo to gauge its effect against the new coronavirus.
The malaria drug promoted by US President Donald Trump as a treatment for COVID-19 was ineffective
Vocal support from Trump for the Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment for coronavirus kicked off a heated debate
It found 11.8 percent of subjects given hydroxychloroquine developed symptoms compatible with COVID-19, compared with 14.3%who got a placebo.
That difference was not statistically significant, meaning the drug was no better than placebo.
“Our data is pretty clear that for post exposure, this does not really work,” said Dr. David Boulware, the trial’s lead researcher and an infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota.
Several trials of the drug have been stopped over concerns about its safety for treating COVID-19 that were raised by health regulators and previous less rigorous studies.
Vocal support from Trump for the Malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment for coronavirus previously raised hope
“I think both sides – one side who is saying ‘this is a dangerous drug’ and the other side that says ‘this works’ – neither is correct,” said Boulware.
The results were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings come after Trump said hydroxychloroquine used in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” back in March.
However, the US president has little evidence to back up that claim.
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The drug was praised to be a cheap and widely available tool in fighting the pandemic
More than 6.4 million people have been infected by the virus
He later said he took the drugs preventively after two people who worked at the White House were diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
Hydroxychloroquine – which has anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties – inhibited the virus in laboratory experiments.
But these type of human trials are needed to definitively demonstrate whether the drug’s benefits, if any, outweigh the risks when compared with a placebo.
Proponents of the drug as a COVID-19 treatment argue it may need to be administered at an earlier stage in the disease to be effective.
Others have suggested that it needs to be used in combination with the mineral zinc, which can help boost the immune system.
More than 20% of the trial subjects also took zinc, which had no significant effect.
The findings come after the US Food and Drug Administration warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine in patients with heart disease back in April due to an increased risk of dangerous cardiac rhythm problems.
Boulware said his trial had fewer participants than initially planned because of difficulty enrolling new subjects after the FDA’s warning.
More than 382,000 have died worldwide
On Tuesday, the British medical journal the Lancet said it had concerns about data behind an influential article’s findings.
The article stated that hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death in COVID-19 patients.
Some European governments even banned hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 patients and US hospitals are known to have significantly cut back its use.
This is a conclusion that undercut scientific interest in the medicine.
Boulware was one of the signatories of an open letter from doctors that called attention to potential problems with that study.