WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15:  U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 15, 2017 in Washington, DC. Adams testified about community-level health promotion programs and businesses that offer incentives to employees that practice healthy lifestyles.  (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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CNN  — 

As the world’s heath experts race to find treatments – and eventually, a cure – for the novel coronavirus, two drugs have jumped to the front of the conversation: chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.

President Donald Trump has called the drugs, which are used to treat malaria and other conditions, game changers, and a rush to procure the pharmaceuticals spurred several US states to take measures to prevent shortages amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

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New York moved to begin trials Tuesday, procuring 70,000 doses of hydroxychloroquine and 750,000 doses of chloroquine, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. In addition, Bayer, the drug maker, has donated 3 million doses of Resochin, its brand name for chloroquine, to the federal government.

Perhaps demonstrating why health officials are urging caution – saying chloroquine requires further clinical study and might not be the panacea it’s billed to be – officials in Nigeria’s Lagos state have reported three overdoses in the days since the drug entered the conversation surrounding the pandemic.

In Arizona, a man died after reportedly taking a nonmedical form of chloroquine used to fight parasites in aquariums.

So, what exactly are these drugs, and what promise do they hold?

Vital to battle against malaria

Chloroquine is used to treat malaria, as well as in chemoprophylaxis, which is the administering of drugs to prevent the development of disease, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2006, it has not been recommended for use in severe malaria because of problems with resistance, particularly in the Oceania region, according to the World Health Organization.

WHO includes it on its list of “essential medicines,” meaning it should be kept affordable and accessible at all times.

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According to the Swiss-registered organization, Medicines for Malaria Venture, chloroquine is a derivative of quinine, which French chemists in 1820 isolated from the bark of the cinchona tree found in South America, employing it as a treatment for fevers.

German scientists created the synthetic chloroquine in 1934 as part of a class of anti-malarials, MMV said, and chloroquine and DDT became “the two principal weapons in WHO’s global eradication malaria campaign” following World War II, the organization said.

Hydroxychloroquine is what’s known as an analog of chloroquine, meaning the two have similar structures but different chemical and biological properties. The former is considered the less toxic derivative, according to studies.

It’s given to patients with rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and the blood disorder porphyria cutanea tarda, the CDC said.