US revokes authorisation for anti-malaria drug promoted by Donald Trump

The US President said he started taking the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in May as a precaution against coronavirus, despite several studies showing it does not work.

The US has stopped authorised emergency use of the anti-malaria drug President Donald Trump says he has been using to fight coronavirus.

The US has stopped authorised emergency use of the anti-malaria drug President Donald Trump says he has been using to fight coronavirus. Source: The New York Times POOL

The US Food and Drug Administration has revoked its emergency use authorisation of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, the drug championed by President Donald Trump to stave off the virus.

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

US President Donald Trump speaks about his use of the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.
Source: EPA

Mr Trump, who said he had been taking the drug as a precaution in May, said other countries had found the malaria drug effective in treating the coronavirus, complaining that only US agencies have failed to grasp its benefit.


The request to revoke the authorisation came from Gary Disbrow, deputy assistant secretary at the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).

The move comes after several studies of the decades-old malaria pills suggested they were not effective, including a widely anticipated trial earlier this month that showed hydroxychloroquine failed to prevent infection in people who had been exposed to the virus.

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

While it did appear to neutralise the virus in laboratory experiments, hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has failed to prove its worth in human COVID-19 trials, thus far. Chloroquine, which is not approved for any use in the US, has also demonstrated mixed results in coronavirus studies.

In March, Mr 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.

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.

US regulators are revoking emergency authorisation for malaria drugs promoted by President Donald Trump for treating COVID-19.
Source: AP

Half of hospitals responding to a mid-May survey conducted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) reported excess supplies of hydroxychloroquine that they expected to return to wholesalers.

"Hospitals who have received supply through the Strategic National Stockpile now have inventory on hand," said Michael Ganio, ASHP's senior director of pharmacy practice and quality.

Today's FDA action "seems to imply that drug can now be sold or dispensed for FDA-approved indications, or a hospital can contact BARDA to work on returning the product," he said.

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

France, Italy and Belgium late last month moved to halt the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 patients. But the US last month supplied Brazil with 2 million doses for use against the coronavirus, as the South American country has emerged as the pandemic's latest epicentre.

Meanwhile, some 400 trials are listed as using hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine as interventions for COVID-19, more than half of them still ongoing, according to a recent analysis from research firm GlobalData.

In the US, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases last month launched a trial designed to show whether hydroxychloroquine in combination with azithromycin can prevent hospitalisation and death from COVID-19.

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Published 16 June 2020 at 7:56am
Source: Reuters - SBS