A drug used to treat malaria called chloroquine is the latest great hope in treating the coronavirus. As announced this morning in President Trump's press conference, the drug is a known commodity, won't require lengthy testing, and has shown "very, very encouraging" results.
The study he was referring to is from France. A group of doctors from Marseille and Nice, led by Philippe Gautret, published the study on March 17th. Using hydroxychloroquine, and in some cases, azithromycin, all 20 patients treated in the study showed a significant decrease in "viral load," and in some cases the virus disappeared entirely.
The study was not the first to test efficacy in fighting COVID-19, but it was the first done by a U.S. ally. The French were essentially confirming in their lab what Chinese doctors from the Department of Science and Technology of Guangdong Province had claimed in an earlier test (date not specified). The recommended Chinese treatment: 500 mg chloroquine twice a day for ten days. The French study upped the amount (600 mg) and duration (14 days).
The notoriously plodding FDA, prodded by an insistent Trump, have their regulatory hands freed: it's an approved drug (though not for this illness), we have a pandemic situation on our hands, and two studies have shown positive outcomes (though one study is, problematically, Chinese).
To be clear: this is fantastic news. The sample sizes are small, the FDA has not, despite Trump's claims, given final approval, requiring a clinical trial of their own.
Later in the press conference, FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn clarified that the drug would be made available to patients as part of a clinical trial. “That’s a drug that the president has directed us to take a closer look at as to whether an expanded use approach to that could be done, to actually see if that benefits patients,” Hahn said. “We want to do that in the setting of a clinical trial.”
There is no news yet on how long it will take to produce a sufficient amount of the drug to treat the mushrooming amount of U.S. cases: over 5,000 yesterday, over 10,000 today, with 172 total deaths.
Granted, case numbers are growing so rapidly in part because of increased testing, but this discovery, if true and broadly applicable, would truly be a blessing, as the U.S. case numbers are tracking with eerie precision the numbers from Italy, where the virus took off in February, and which surpassed China yesterday in total cases.
So far, there is no reason to believe that Chloroquine won't work. One hesitates to declare victory, and the market hasn't reacted meaningfully, but this is hands down the best news about the Chinavirus to date.
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