The News on Hydroxychloroquine Keeps Getting More Complicated
The latest on the potential Covid-19 treatment under research
On March 20, researchers in France published in the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents that hydroxychloroquine, a drug typically used to treat malaria and autoimmune disorders, was unbelievably effective at treating Covid-19 (emphasis on unbelievably), virtually curing people of the novel coronavirus in less than a week. The news took off, fueled by President Donald Trump’s uninformed enthusiasm for what he dubbed a miracle cure.
Scientists quickly called for restraint, saying not enough was known about the drug — its efficacy and its risks — and perhaps the French data was a little too good to be true. Sure enough, there are numerous flaws in the study’s methods, most glaring that they excluded people in the analysis who received the drug but continued to decline, falsely inflating the efficacy of the medication.
More criticisms have since emerged: It turns out the senior author of the study, Didier Raoult, is also the editor-in-chief of the journal where it was published, a clear conflict of interest. Perhaps most scathing, the scientific society that publishes the journal, the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, issued a statement that the article “does not meet the Society’s expected standard.”
Despite the drama, it doesn’t mean that hydroxychloroquine, which can act as both an antiviral and immune-modifying agent, doesn’t work. A Chinese clinical trial of hydroxychloroquine that was released as a preprint paper on March 31 also reported positive results, although much more tempered. The researchers show that people with Covid-19 who received hydroxychloroquine recovered faster than people who did not, and after five days, more people with pneumonia had recovered if they received the treatment. In the U.S., the National Institutes of Health just launched its first placebo-controlled clinical trial to test hydroxychloroquine in 500 patients hospitalized with Covid-19.
Doctors at many hospitals around the world have also been using hydroxychloroquine off-label to treat people with Covid-19 in the hope that it might have some effect against the novel coronavirus. However, new troubling…