WHO stalls clinical trials of anti-malaria drug for COVID over safety concerns

Decision based on study which said use of hydroxycholriquine on COVID-19 patients may increase their chances of dying and developing heart problems, says WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Hydroxychloroquine is approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found it safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19. Photo: iStock

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has temporarily suspended the clinical trials of hydroxycholriquine for treatment of COVID-19 across countries.

Announcing the decision in a press conference on Monday (May 25), WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said it was taken based on scientific evidence and that the testing will be stalled until experts review all available evidence to date. This concern relates to the use of both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19, he said.

However, patients who already have been administered hydroxycholriquine as part of randomised clinical trials, will complete their treatment.

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The decision was taken in a meeting of the executive group of the Solidarity Trial on Sunday after a series of trials did not show any effect on COVID-19 patients.

Related news: Anti-malaria drug may not be your magic cure to COVID-19

Ghebreyesus pointed to a study in The Lancet last week which said that use of the medicine on COVID-19 patients may increase their chances of dying and developing heart problems.

Ghebreyesus, however, clarified that both hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are approved treatments for people with malaria or autoimmune diseases.

Other treatments in the trial, including the experimental drug remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy, are still being tested.

Dr Michael Ryan, WHO’s emergencies chief, said there was no indication of any safety problems with hydroxychloroquine in the WHO trial to date, but that statisticians would now analyze the information.

“Were just acting on an abundance of caution based on the recent results of all the studies to ensure that we can continue safely with that arm of the trial,” he said.

WHO said it expected to have more details within the next two weeks.

Last week, Trump announced he was taking hydroxychloroquine although he has not tested positive for COVID-19. His own administration has warned the drug can have deadly side effects, and both the European Medicines Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned health professionals last month that the drug should not be used to treat COVID-19 outside of hospital or research settings due to numerous serious side effects that in some cases can be fatal.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine are approved for treating lupus and rheumatoid arthritis and for preventing and treating malaria, but no large rigorous tests have found them safe or effective for preventing or treating COVID-19.

(With inputs from agencies)

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