A clinical trial to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of adults hospitalized with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has begun, with the first participants now enrolled in Tennessee.
The use of anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has soared as the United States has quickly become the epicenter of the pandemic.
The study will evaluate the safety and the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine, which is FDA-approved to treat malaria and some autoimmune diseases.
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It's not approved for use against COVID-19, but the FDA has authorized its emergency use.
"The one nice thing about hydroxycloroquine is it actually has two different mechanisms of action against COVID-19. It helps prevent the virus from entering into the cells and it works inside the cell and prevent it from leaving the cell and infecting other cells," said UNT Health Science Center Infectious Disease Pharmacist Dr. Crystal Howell.
Howell says as an antiviral, it's most effective when given to patients at the beginning of their illness.
Still, as an emergency use drug, experts say it should be a last resort until science proves otherwise.
"Most physicians are trying to save the medication for the patients who are the sickest of the sick, where we don't have any other options and we are trying to make sure we're doing what we can. At that point, the benefits outweigh the risks. I would not suggest the medication be given to everyone, especially on an outpatient basis, just because there are so many side effects that need monitoring," said Howell.
She said the drug with the most promise is called Remdesivir. It's not FDA-approved. It's an investigational drug and can only be given in a clinical trial setting.