JERUSALEM, Israel – An Israeli pharmaceutical company is donating to US hospitals more than 10 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump and others as a potential new treatment for COVID-19 patients.
Teva, a pharmaceutical giant in Israel, has announced it will begin donating millions of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets to hospitals across the US starting March 31.
“Immediately upon learning of the potential benefit of hydroxychloroquine, Teva began to assess supply and to urgently acquire additional ingredients to make more product while arranging for all of what we had to be distributed immediately,” said Brendan O’Grady, Teva Executive Vice President North America Commercial, in a statement.
“We are committed to helping to supply as many tablets as possible, as demand for this treatment accelerates, at no cost,” he continued.
Hydroxychloroquine is already an FDA approved drug for malaria that recently gained popularity following a small study done on COVID-19 patients in France that found that the drug destroyed the virus in the bodies of 26 patients. However, experts have criticized the study’s design and say it is far from conclusive.
President Trump said in a White House press conference that it is a promising treatment for COVID-19. He said the drug had been approved for use and he wanted to “remove any barrier” to drug testing and “allow many more Americans to access drugs that have shown really good promise.”
A spokesperson for the FDA later said the drug has not been approved for use in coronavirus patients, but doctors are legally allowed to prescribe a drug for any illness if they think it can help.
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Hydroxychloroquine is already being given to patients in New York as part of an effort to find anything that might prove effective against the coronavirus.
While many hope hydroxychloroquine could be a game-changer COVID-19 treatment, a recent study found it was no more effective in coronavirus patients than conventional treatments.
The study was conducted by a team from the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Center in China and included a small sample of just 30 patients hospitalized for COVID-19. Half of the patients were given the malaria drug for five days while the other 15 were treated normally with rest, oxygen treatments, and other anti-viral drugs.
CT scans at the end revealed there was no statistical difference in how the disease progressed in the bodies of patients given the drug and those who were not.
One patient progressed to the severe stage of the disease during the study – that patient was treated with hydroxychloroquine. Four patients given the drug developed diarrhea and signs of possible liver damage compared to those getting conventional treatment.
The Chinese researchers admitted the study had a small number of patients and larger tests need to be done to accurately assess the drug’s risks and benefits in treating COVID-19 patients.
White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci has called reports that the malaria drug might work anecdotal and said further studies must be done.