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Malaria drugs' promise for coronavirus spurs hope, shortages

SeattlePI.com Monday, 23 March 2020 ()
Excitement about treating the new coronavirus with malaria drugs is raising hopes, including with President Donald Trump. But the evidence that they may help is thin, and a run on the drugs is complicating access for people who need them for rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

Chloroquine and a similar drug, hydroxychloroquine, showed encouraging signs in small, early tests against the coronavirus. But the drugs have major side effects, one reason scientists don't want to give them without evidence of their value, even in this emergency.

Yet those preliminary studies sparked intense interest after Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine plus an antibiotic could be "one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine" and should "be put in use immediately." He cited a French study that gave the combo to six patients.

Some French doctors and politicians also are pushing to expand hydroxychloroquine's use. The mayor of the French city of Nice, Christian Estrosi, said on television Monday that he was on his sixth day of treatment and has "the sense I’ve been cured.”

Scientists, however, warn about raising false hopes and say major studies are needed to prove the drugs are safe and effective against coronavirus, and to show that people would not have recovered just as well on their own. One such study starts Tuesday in New York.

"Right now, there is no drug that looks like it's proven so overwhelming in early-stage clinical trials that we can say it's highly promising," former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said Sunday on CBS' “Face the Nation.”

THE DRUGS AND SIDE EFFECTS

Chloroquine has been used to treat malaria since the 1930s. Hydroxychloroquine came along a decade later and has fewer side effects. The latter is sold in generic...
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News video: Potential coronavirus drugs in short supply after demand soars

Potential coronavirus drugs in short supply after demand soars 02:32

At least four state pharmacy boards have taken steps to limit prescriptions of potential coronavirus treatments touted by U.S. President Donald Trump that are in short supply as demand has surged with the rapid spread of the outbreak. Zachary Goelman reports.

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine and related chloroquine are in shortage due to a surge in demand because of the...
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Trump Hypes Potential COVID-19 Drugs, But Evidence So Far Is Slim

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