Melbourne researchers start trial into controversial drug touted by Donald Trump as coronavirus shield

The Melbourne trial will test whether hydroxychloroquine can prevent the spread of coronavirus. Source: AP

Researchers in Melbourne have begun testing whether hydroxychloroquine is effective in guarding against coronavirus.

A clinical trial in Melbourne is examining whether or not hydroxychloroquine, a controversial drug US President Donald Trump is taking to guard against coronavirus, actually works.

Researchers at the Walter and Elizabeth Hall Institute of Medical Research are asking for around 2,250 frontline healthcare workers to participate in the study, which began on Wednesday.

Head of infectious diseases and immune defence at the institute, Marc Pellegrini, said there is no evidence so far to suggest the drug works in humans, which is why the study is warranted.

“We certainly know that in the test tube hydroxychloroquine is very good at stopping the agent that causes COVID-19 from multiplying, so that’s the initial promise," Professor Pellegrini told SBS News.

"It’s a bit leap to say that it’s going to work in humans, but certainly the evidence in the test tube would support the notion of trying to test this in clinical trials.

“Most of the media have been focused on whether it works as a form of treatment for people who have COVID-19. This study is completely different, so we are looking at the hydroxychloroquine to see if it has value in stopping people in getting an infection."

The study will last between six to eight months, with participants taking the drug over a four-month period.

Half the participants will be given a sugar pill placebo as the control group.

Prof Pellegrini also warned against “ad-hoc” use of the drug among health care professionals and those in the general community.

“I think that the publicity around Donald Trump, it’s a very misguided approach to the use of hydroxychloroquine," he said.

"This is a prescription drug - we need to make sure it is not causing harm to people. We need really good evidence to see if this does or doesn’t work. If it works, then we are able to say then we can prescribe it very carefully."  

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.

Testing for coronavirus is now widely available across Australia. If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. 

The federal government's coronavirus tracing app COVIDSafe is available for download from your phone's app store.

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