Malaria and arthritis drugs touted as potential coronavirus “cure”

Malaria and arthritis drugs touted as potential coronavirus “cure”

Pharmacists have been ordered to stop dispensing two drugs touted as potential “cures” for the new coronavirus.

Australian pharmacies saw a major rush for old malaria drugs hydroxychloroquine – sold as Plaquenil – and chloroquine after US President Donald Trump touted the medications as a “game changer” in a press conference last week.

The comment was based on a recent patient trial of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 conducted in Marseilles, France, which reported “encouraging” early results.

Pharmaceutical Society of Australia president Chris Freeman said the unprecedented demand for the drugs in pharmacies across Australia created a shortage for patients who actually needed them.

The two medications are also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis.

Freeman said despite “positive signals” from the trial, people should not “buy into the hype”.

“I think the worst thing that could happen is people start using these medicines in the hope it will prevent the virus, and then relax on other measures to prevent [it],” Freeman told the ABC.

Freeman has asked pharmacists to keep their supplies of hydroxychloroquine safe.

“We’re calling all prescribers to stop prescribing these in the short term until we have some more evidence on whether these medicines are effective in these conditions and are safe to do so,” he said.

The Australian Medical Association have also supported the pharmacists’ call for GPs and doctors to stop prescribing the drug.

The trial, which studied 36 patients, found that 70 per cent of the hydroxychloroquine-treated group tested negative to the virus at day 6.

Ying Zhang, a professor of microbiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the Marseilles study had “potentially interesting and justified” findings, but was limited by a small sample size and a short treatment and follow-up duration.

Christian Perronne, a infectious diseases physician at Greater Paris University Hospitals, said the results were “very encouraging” but added: “I agree with authorities and colleagues that, before recommending this treatment on a large scale, this efficacy should be further studied on a bigger number of patients with a longer follow-up.”

According to Vox, at least six clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine are enrolling patients or in planning stages around the world.