Hydroxychloroquine trials halted after World Health Organization cites ‘significantly higher risk of death’ for COVID-19 patients

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Credit: George Frey/AFP

The World Health Organization has suspended testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine after a study published in The Lancet reported that COVID-19 patients taking the drug were dying at higher rates than other patients with the disease.

The study, which drew from a registry of more than 96,000 patients from 671 hospitals across six continents, concluded that patients given chloroquine, its less toxic derivative hydroxychloroquine, or either of the drugs in combination with antibiotics all had a significantly higher risk of death than patients not taking the drugs. They also had an elevated risk of heart rhythm complications, the study reported. The findings were published [May 22].

Related article:  Cancer cells alter mutation rates to survive targeted therapies. Researchers want to know how they do it.

“To our knowledge, these findings provide the most comprehensive evidence of the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine . . . for treatment of COVID-19,” the study authors write in their paper. “Although observational studies cannot fully account for unmeasured confounding factors, our findings suggest not only an absence of therapeutic benefit but also potential harm with the use of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine drug regimens” in hospitalized patients.

The [WHO] study organizers will review data that have already been collected and meet in the next couple of weeks to decide whether to resume testing with hydroxychloroquine. 

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