Researchers in New York will announce new week the preliminary results of a study on hydroxychloroquine, a drug often touted by President Trump as a “game-changer” for coronavirus patients.
The announcement could offer one of the first scientific hints as to whether the drugs are helpful against the virus.
Since hydroxychloroquine is already on the market for malaria, lupus and other diseases, doctors are free to prescribe it “off label” to patients with coronavirus. Doctors can also prescribe chloroquine, a similar drug, and azithromycin, an antibiotic that’s sometimes paired with the two drugs.
The New York study will review hundreds of medical records from hospital patients across New York state with coronavirus to see if the drugs are helping them or hurting them.
“We wanted to get an immediate sense of this,” said David Holtgrave, dean of the University at Albany School of Public Health, who is running the study. “Time is so much of the essence here.”
A recent chloroquine study in Brazil was halted because study subjects who were taking a high dose of the drug had a higher risk of potentially deadly heart problems.
Because of those cardiac concerns, a Swedish government agency has issued a warning that that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials for Covid-19.
The Albany researchers will review hospital charts to see if patients who are taking the drugs have different outcomes compared with those who are not. They’ll be comparing mortality rates, and rates of admission to the intensive care unit as well as any side effects of the drugs.
The researchers hope to study 1,600 patients divided equally into four groups: those taking hydroxychloroquine; those taking hydroxychloroquine along with azithromycin; those taking chloroquine; and those taking none of the drugs, as a comparison group.
Holtgrave said he hopes to have final results at the end of the month. He said doctors shouldn’t make prescribing decisions based on the results of his study alone. Rather, he said doctors should look at his results together with the results of clinical trials, which are considered more rigorous.
In clinical trials, which are considered the gold standard in medicine, doctors give the drugs to a group of patients and then give placebo pills to another group of patients, and compare how the two groups fare. There are more than a dozen clinical trials underway in the US right now but results for most of them won’t be published for months.
The Albany medical records study is being conducted in partnership with the New York Department of Health, which is funding the study.