Preliminary results of a large study of hydroxychloroquine – the drug President Donald Trump said would be a “game changer” in the fight against coronavirus – suggests that the drug “didn’t really have much of an effect on the recovery rate,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday.
“I think from the review that I heard basically it was not seen as a positive, not seen as a negative,” Cuomo said during CNN’s coronavirus town hall.
The study, sponsored by the New York state Department of Health, looked at about 600 patients at 22 hospitals in the greater New York City area.
Those who took hydroxychloroquine, with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, were no more likely to survive their infections than those who did not, according to David Holtgrave, dean of the University at Albany School of Public Health, who conducted the study. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published.
“We don’t see a statistically significant difference between patients who took the drugs and those who did not,” he said.
Since hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are both already on the market for other illnesses, doctors are free to prescribe them to coronavirus patients if they want to, and the Albany study found that doctors did often use them to treat their coronavirus patients.
Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University infectious disease expert who was not involved in the Albany report, said while it’s hardly the last word on the issue, he hopes it will guide doctors who are considering prescribing it to their hospitalized patients.
“This study is not a red light. It’s a yellow caution light,” he said.
In the Albany study, patients who were taking hydroxychloroquine were also not statistically more likely to develop heart problems, a known side effect of the drug. Doctors in Brazil, France, and Sweden have found that coronavirus patients taking the drug did have a higher rate of developing cardiac complications.
Hydroxychloroquine has shown promise against the virus in the lab, and doctors theorized it would also tamp down inflammation, which can cause serious complications for people with Covid-19.
The author of the Albany report said he hopes his study adds to the general knowledge about the usefulness of these drugs against coronavirus, given that doctors are using it already.
“Hopefully what we’ve done here is to start collecting data and evidence and learning lessons as we go forward about effects and side effects,” Holtgrave said he expects the final results of his research to be released as soon as next week and it will include 1,200 patients.
Holtgrave emphasized that this is just one study, and that more significant studies – those that look at the drugs as part of a clinical trial – still have not reported their results. The Albany study is observational, meaning that the researchers looked back at people who had already been prescribed the drugs.
During CNN’s town hall, FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn called the Albany research a significant observational study.
“Obviously you need to wait for the entire cohort of individuals to have been treated with the complete course of treatment to get a full read on that,” he said.
The final Albany report will also include information about whether patients taking the drugs were more or less likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit, or to have a longer or shorter stay in the hospital, as well as death rates for each group.
Trump has been a cheerleader for hydroxychloroquine
Hydroxychloroquine, a decades-old drug used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, became a political football last month when President Trump said it showed “tremendous promise” against Covid-19.
“I think it’s going to be great,” he said.