A malaria drug that was touted by U.S. President Donald Trump and widely used as a potential treatment for patients with Covid-19 failed to help those with infections stay off ventilators or live longer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Researchers at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City evaluated 1,376 consecutive patients who showed up at the emergency room with symptoms of coronavirus, comparing the fate of those who received the medication, hydroxychloroquine, to those who didn’t. Nearly 60% of the patients were given the drug, typically within 48 hours, and they were more sick on average.
There were no significant differences between the groups in the number of patients who needed to be put on a ventilator or who died, even after taking into account the differences between them, the researchers said.
Additional study, including more scientifically rigorous trials that randomly assign patients to treatment groups, is needed to confirm the findings, they said.
The results shouldn’t be used to rule out either a potential benefit or harm from the drug, though they don’t support use of the medication outside of clinical trials, the researchers said. The medical center updated its clinical guidance to remove the suggestion that patients with Covid-19 should receive it.
When Trump began touting the drug as a “game changer” for Covid-19 in March, a frenzy ensued as hospitals, patients and doctors raced to secure supplies. The president has stopped talking about hydroxychloroquine as the tide has now turned against the drug, with regulators and scientists raising concerns about potentially serious side effects.