National News

Trump against hydroxychloroquine ruling

The US Food and Drug Administration has revoked its emergency use authorisation for hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 but President Donald Trump says US agencies have failed to grasp its benefit in fighting the virus.

Based on new evidence, the FDA said it was no longer reasonable to believe that hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine may be effective in treating the illness caused by the coronavirus.

The FDA also warned that the drugs have been shown in lab studies to interfere with Gilead Sciences Inc's antiviral drug remdesivir - the only medicine so far to show a benefit against COVID-19 in formal clinical trials.

The move comes after several studies of the decades-old malaria pills suggested they were not effective either as a treatment for or to prevent COVID-19.

British scientists earlier this month halted a large trial after deciding that hydroxychloroquine was "useless" at treating COVID-19 patients.

Hydroxychloroquine's anti-inflammatory and antiviral properties suggested it might help COVID-19 patients, and the FDA authorised its emergency use in March at the height of a pandemic for which there were no approved treatments.

The early enthusiasm was partly based on laboratory experiments in which the drug appeared to neutralise the virus. Chloroquine, which is not approved for any use in the US and has more side effects, has not fared any better in human clinical trials.

In March, Trump said hydroxychloroquine in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin had "a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine," with little evidence to back up that claim.

He later said he took the drugs preventively after two people who worked at the White House were diagnosed with COVID-19, and he urged others to try it.

"I took it and I felt good about taking it. I don't know if it had an impact, but it certainly didn't hurt me," Trump said on Monday.

US Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said the drug is still being studied for possible use at an earlier stage of the disease.

"A lot of the data that has come out that was more negative was people who were quite ill in the hospital," he said.

The drug can still be used with a doctor's prescription, Azar noted. Any drug with US approval can be used in any way a doctor sees fit regardless of what it has been approved for.

Doctors in recent weeks had already pulled back on the use of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19, after several studies suggested it is not effective and may pose heart risks for certain patients.

Current US government treatment guidelines do not recommend its use for COVID-19 patients outside of a clinical trial.

The US last month sent two million doses to Brazil, which has emerged as the pandemic's latest epicentre.

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