During a press conference earlier today, March 19th, the Trump administration announced that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, among other drugs, are being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to test as potential COVID-19 coronavirus treatments. This is not the first time these drugs have been mentioned as potential treatments for the viral illness: early testing of hydroxychloroquine in France showed promising results, with results indicating that 50% of patients that originally tested positive for the virus tested negative after just three days of treatment. However, though the results are still extremely unclear whether this is a viable solution, it may be critical to understand what this drug exactly is, and what is known about it already.
What Is It: Hydroxycholorquine (sold under the brand name Plaquenil), and the closely related chloroquine, were approved in the 1950’s mainly as anti-malaria treatments. Since then, the drugs have been used for a wide spectrum of diseases, including systemic lupus erythematous (commonly known as “lupus”), rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and even for complications of Lyme disease.
How Does It Work: One aspect that has been relatively well understood is that these drugs work at the molecular level to disrupt critical cell processes, inactivating the body’s immune response. Since the natural immune response is responsible for inflammation and other general disease symptoms (e.g. pain, fever, aching, etc.), this anti-immune process works to curtail systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. As for malaria treatment, though Plaquenil can be indicated for the treatment of uncomplicated malaria, the exact mechanism by which this drug works to resolve malaria is largely unknown.
What Are The Side Effects: Though hydroxychloroquine may be effective, it does have the potential of causing numerous side effects, including but not limited to headache, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, skin rash, etc. One of the rarer, yet more serious side effects is vision loss due to retinal toxicity.
Doctor holding Chloroquine, a frequently used anti-malaria drug.
A significant benefit with using these drugs is that they have been on the market and used for a long time, so a reasonable amount of information regarding actual patient reactions, side effects, and efficacy is available. Their use, especially for rheumatoid disorders and malaria have been relatively well supported by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And finally, because they have been around for so long, generic versions are available, which may prove to be cost-effective if used for coronavirus treatment worldwide.
Indeed, there is still a significant amount of work left to be done before declaring these drugs as a viable treatment option for coronavirus, especially with regards to efficacy, safety, and long-term patient outcomes. However, if the scientific community is able to collaborate quickly enough to test these drugs, and if the results are indeed as promising as they initially seem, this could be a game-changer in curtailing the coronavirus pandemic.
The content of this article is not implied to be and should not be relied on or substituted for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment by any means, and is not written or intended as such. This content is for information purposes only. Consult with a trained medical professional for medical advice.