Source: Daily Mail, by Connor Boyd
Hydroxychloroquine could prevent tens of thousands of people from dying from coronavirus but the controversial malaria drug is being discarded prematurely, top scientists have warned.
Donald Trump has repeatedly said the medicine is a ‘game changer’ and has even admitted to taking it himself to prevent Covid-19.
British researchers behind the only large global trial testing hydroxychloroquine as a prophylaxis say their work is in jeopardy because it has become too politicised.
They have warned dropping the drug will block science from finding out if the medicine can really stop coronavirus from entering the body, potentially saving thousands of lives.
So far, no drug has been shown to prevent infection so teams of scientists around the world are scrambling to find a vaccine that can do just that.
And the only treatment scientifically proven to treat the disease at present is a £5 steroid known as dexamethasone, which slashes death rates by up to a third.
The COPCOV Trial is a double-blind placebo study which aims to enroll 40,000 healthcare workers to see if hydroxychloroquine acts as a prophylaxis against Covid.
It is being led by the University of Oxford, the London-based research charity the Wellcome Trust and the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok.
In a press release distributed this morning, MORU researchers warned ‘fraudulent data, unjustified extrapolation and exaggerated safety concerns together with intense politicisation and negative publicity may stop COPCOV’ from going ahead.
Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said: ‘There is no guarantee that we’ll soon have a widely available vaccine against Covid-19.
‘Despite all the publicity, we still do not know if hydroxychloroquine can prevent Covid-19, but it’s really important that we find out, one way or the other.
‘The only way to do this is to enroll a large number of participants in randomised controlled trials like COPCOV.’
Smaller studies have suggested HCQ can block the disease from infecting people.
Dr Will Schilling, one of the chief investigators of COPCOV, said: ‘We really don’t know if hydroxychloroquine works or not in prevention or very early treatment.
‘That question remains unanswered. The benefits found in small post-exposure treatment trials although modest could be very valuable if they were confirmed.’
MORU director, Professor Nick Day, added: ‘By the time patients are admitted to hospital virus multiplication is well past its peak and inflammation in the lungs and other complications may prove lethal.
‘At this stage the steroid dexamethasone, which reduces inflammation, saves lives but the antivirals hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine do not.
‘However, that does not rule out that they could be effective much earlier in the illness. Prevention is much easier than cure. The COPCOV study will find out if these drugs can prevent Covid-19 or not.’
There has been no evidence to suggest that hydroxychloroquine is dangerous to Covid-19 patients.
Even the Oxford RECOVERY Trial found no difference in death rates between people who took the drug and those who did not.
Yet reports linking the pills to heart arrhythmias — a known side effect — and strokes have made headlines around the world.
Oxford researchers believe biased studies have polluted people’s opinions about the drug and risks bringing an end to the COPCOV study.
Sir Nick White, professor of tropical medicine at Oxford, said: ‘Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine have a very good safety record in the treatment of malaria and rheumatological conditions over the past 60 years.
‘Billions of treatments have been given. Concerns that they might cause heart arrhythmias are not supported by the evidence from the randomised trials in COVID-19, and in rheumatological conditions hydroxychloroquine has actually been shown to reduce the risk of heart arrhythmias.
‘There is very strong evidence that the doses being evaluated for prevention in the COPCOV study are safe.’