The World Health Organisation is resuming trials of hydroxychloroquine. Picture: AP
The World Health Organisation is resuming trials of hydroxychloroquine. Picture: AP

Renewed hopes malaria drug could help beat COVID-19

The UN's World Health Organisation is resuming its trial of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine to combat COVID-19 after temporarily halting research over safety concerns.

The Data Safety Monitoring Board decided there was no reason to discontinue the international trial after reviewing available data on the drug, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

"The executive group received this recommendation and endorsed the continuation of all arms of solidarity trial including hydroxychloroquine," he said.

 

 

The WHO's clinical trials were suspended pending a safety review in the search for coronavirus treatments.

"On the basis of the available mortality data... the executive group will communicate with the principal investigators in the trial about resuming the hydroxychloroquine arm," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a virtual news briefing.

It came after the Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine acknowledged serious questions about the data used in studies they published about the potentially damaging effects of the drug to COVID-19 sufferers.

"We are issuing an expression of concern to alert readers to the fact that serious scientific questions have been brought to our attention … important scientific questions have been raised about data," the Lancet said.

 

And the New England Journal of Medicine stated: "Substantive concerns have been raised about the quality of the information in that database. We have asked the authors to provide evidence that the data are reliable."

After suspending the hydroxychloroquine arm of a clinical trial of experimental COVID-19 drugs, the director-general of the World Health Organisation said experts had reviewed the safety data and were now recommending the trial continue as planned.

The recommendation means doctors will soon be able to resume giving the drug to patients enrolled in the UN health agency's study.

Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the WHO's safety monitoring committee for the global trial had now examined all available mortality data about hydroxychloroquine.

 

Some studies had suggested that people who were taking the drug for COVID-19 had a higher chance of dying than those who were not.

Dr Tedros said: "The members of the committee recommended that there are no reasons to modify the trial protocol."

He said the executive group running the WHO's trial endorsed the continuation of all arms of the trial, including hydroxychloroquine.

Other treatments being tested, including remdesivir and an HIV combination therapy drug, were unaffected.

Dr Tedros said that to date, more than 3500 people have been recruited into the trial in 35 countries.

 

Originally published as Renewed hopes malaria drug could help beat COVID-19



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