Trump sees promise: Chloroquin drug in spotlight as possible cure for coronavirus

FE Bureau

Chloroquine, an old anti-malarial drug, is in the spotlight as a possible cure for Covid-19. Didier Raoult, a researcher who heads the IHU-Méditerranée Infection, a private research organisation in Marseille, France - as per The Connexion, a monthly journal - has claimed that a set of 24 patients, among the first to be infected in France, who were administered 600 micrograms of a chloroquine-based brand-drug saw speedier healing than in the normal course and a much shorter time when they remained contagious.

The drug is cheaply available - discovered in 1934, by Hans Andersag, it is on the WHO's List of Essential Medicines and is available as a generic. It also enjoys relative safety, used as a preventive for malaria over long periods - the US's Center for Disease Control sets no limit on its use, with an advisory for regular eye-testing for users who take it over many years. These two factors make it a solid candidate for inclusion in the public health arsenal against Covid-19, that is, only after rigorous testing and trials.

The drug also got ringing endorsement from US President Donald Trump at a White House briefing of the media on coronavirus on Thursday, with Trump calling it a "game-changer" that has shown "very, very encouraging early results".

He also claimed that the US Food and Drug Administration had "approved" the drug fast, bringing down the process that would have taken months to "immediate". However, the FDA released a statement soon after making it clear that "there are no FDA-approved therapeutics or drugs to treat, cure or prevent Covid-19" and that it is working with the authorities and researchers to see if chloroquine can be used to treat patients with mild-to-moderate Covid-19.

Chloroquine is approved for other purposes in the US, and thus, doctors are legally allowed to prescribe it for conditions it is not indicated for ('off-label use'). CNN reports that FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn told the media after Trump's briefing that chloroquine would be tested through a "large, pragmatic clinical trial".

With the contagion bringing public health systems to their knees in many countries, governments are frantically searching for a cure. After Chinese doctors had reported "encouraging results" following treatment of Covid-19 patients with a cocktail of anti-malarial and HIV anti-virals, doctors in India, at the Sawai Man Singh Hospital in Jaipur, had also claimed that a treatment protocol involving anti-malarials, flu and HIV anti-virals had helped the treatment of an Italian couple. While the wife, a 70-year-old, tested negative for SARS CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus), the husband, for whom the viral load had reportedly come down, has died. The protocol has been shared with the Indian Council of Medical Research and it will likely be a part of a special edition of the Indian Journal of Medical Research.