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Infectious Diseases

Updated 08 June 2020

'Gold standard' clinical trial finds hydroxychloroquine won't prevent Covid-19

For a recent trial, researchers randomly assigned more than 800 people in the United States and Canada to take hydroxychloroquine, or a placebo, for five days.

  • There were high hopes that hydroxychloroquine could prevent or mitigate Covid-19
  • A new trial, however, found that the drug had no effect on the virus
  • What's more, the drug could actually harm patients


Hydroxychloroquine, the drug touted and reportedly used by President Donald Trump as a preventative for Covid-19, appears not to have lived up to its hype, a new study shows.

Unlike some prior studies, this new trial was a "gold standard" prospective, randomised clinical trial. It found that hydroxychloroquine could not prevent Covid-19 any better than a sugar pill.

Worse, 40% of those taking hydroxychloroquine developed side effects including nausea, upset stomach or diarrhoea. Fortunately, no serious side effects or heart problems occurred in the study, the researchers noted. An uptick in risk for potentially dangerous heart rhythm abnormalities had been noted in prior studies in which Covid-19 patients received hydroxychloroquine as a treatment.

For the trial, researchers randomly assigned more than 800 people in the United States and Canada to take hydroxychloroquine, or a placebo, for five days. All of the participants had been exposed to people with Covid-19.

A conclusive answer

Overall, 12% of those taking hydroxychloroquine developed Covid-19 as did 14% taking the placebo, the findings showed.

This finding was not statistically significant, the study authors noted.

"Our objective was to answer the question of whether hydroxychloroquine worked to prevent disease or did not work," said lead researcher Dr David Boulware, an infectious disease doctor at the University of Minnesota.

"While we are disappointed that this did not prevent Covid-19, we are pleased that we were able to provide a conclusive answer," Boulware said in a university news release. "Our objective was to find an answer."

The report was published online on 3 June in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Several other studies focused on the drug as a treatment have found it has no benefit and could possibly harm Covid-19 patients.

Study in The Lancet retracted

Meanwhile, Health24 reported on Friday that a study on hydroxychloroquine which was recently published in The Lancet journal, has been retracted after UK publication the Guardian probed the research further and found several inconsistencies in the data provided by the US company Surgisphere.

The study, which was widely reported on, pointed out that hydroxychloroquine, as well as a related medicine chloroquine, is not an effective treatment for Covid-19 and may, in fact, cause negative side-effects like serious heart rhythm disorders.

The findings from study published in The Lancet caused hydroxychloroquine clinical trials worldwide to be halted.

After the Guardian probe, Dr Mandeep Mehra, executive director of the Center for Advanced Heart Disease at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston - and the study's lead author - asked The Lancet for a retraction because he could no longer vouch for the accuracy of the data, according to The Guardian.

According to Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, these developments were “shocking” and were an example of research misconduct against the backdrop of a global health emergency.

The Guardian also launched a separate investigation into the company Surgisphere. As a result, a paper in the New England Medical Journal was also retracted as it was based on one of Surgisphere’s data sets.

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