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Malaria treatment to be included in UK novel coronavirus drug tests

By Julian Shea in London | | Updated: 2020-05-20 20:26
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Unproven substance endorsed by Trump on list of substances to be analyzed

The United Kingdom government has started bulk buying hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malarial drug reportedly being taken by United States President Donald Trump, as part of trials for treatment of the novel coronavirus.

The Guardian reports that a document was uploaded to the government website on May 15 inviting pharmaceutical companies to supply a variety of drugs for use in a 35 million pound ($42.9 million) trial over the coming months, one of which was hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat arthritis, but is currently unproven for COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine is not licensed for the treatment or prevention of COVID-19 by the US Food and Drug Administration, or any other agency, and Stephen Griffin from the University of Leeds school of medicine told ITV News: "the weight of evidence from most recent patient trials shows it to be ineffective, with the potential for adverse side effects including those affecting the heart."

The World Health Organization has expressed concern at reports of individuals self-medicating, with negative effects, and in Britain the Royal College of Physicians said the evidence behind the use of hydroxychloroquine "remains patchy" and it did not support its routine use for COVID-19 patients.

Earlier this week, Trump told reporters "You'd be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers before you catch it, the frontline workers, many, many are taking it. I happen to be taking it."

Hydroxychloroquine is also reportedly endorsed by Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Currently, the US and Brazil have the highest and third-highest global death tolls from novel coronavirus, and on Tuesday Brazil recorded its heaviest daily loss of life of the outbreak so far.

Studies are taking place in the US, the UK and across Europe into the drug and a similar substance, chloroquine, to see if it might have any impact. Other substances being analyzed in the UK trials include lopinavir-ritonavir, which is used to treat people who are HIV positive.

"All of the drugs being purchased can be used to treat other conditions too so they don't really go to waste if they aren't proved effective for COVID-19," a source familiar with the trials told the Guardian.

Previously, Trump, who is still not wearing a mask as a measure against the spread of the novel coronavirus, has used White House media briefings to talk up the potential of "disinfectant" and "powerful light" as COVID-19 treatments.

He also dismissed a study raising concerns over the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a "Trump enemy statement", saying it had been carried out on "people that were in very bad shape… they were very old. Almost dead".

After Trump first spoke up about hydroxychloroquine in March, a man in Arizona died after taking chloroquine phosphate, a similarly named but different substance, used for cleaning fish tanks. "I saw it sitting on the back shelf and thought, Hey, isn't that the stuff they're talking about on TV?", his wife told NBC News.

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