A fast-tracked clinical trial exploring the potential benefits of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 has concluded as abruptly as it began.
The study, announced in early April, enrolled nearly 500 patients being treated for COVID-19 at 34 hospitals, with the largest share at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, which was the study’s lead site. Half received hydroxychloroquine and half took a placebo.
The early findings showed no harm and no benefit, “so there’s no reason to keep going,” says investigator Wesley Self, an emergency physician at VUMC.
“We decided the answer was there in our data on Friday night. So literally, immediately, we’re beginning to push those answers out to the public,” Self says.
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malaria drug also used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus. It has shown some “activity” against the coronavirus, but there was limited human data.
Despite the lack of evidence, President Donald Trump said in mid-May he’d been taking hydroxychloroquine to prevent COVID-19. The Food and Drug Administration warned against using the drug without strict medical supervision because of adverse heart-related side-effects.
The National Institutes of Health announced the end of the study on Saturday. The peer-reviewed analysis will be released in a month or so. But researchers didn’t want people holding out hope for a drug that clearly doesn’t work.
“There was a good reason to test this, and reason to believe this could have been helpful in COVID,” Self says. “We’re moving our efforts from hydroxychloroquine to all these other promising ideas.”