Three big studies dim hopes that hydroxychloroquine can treat or prevent COVID-19

Asha Bajaj
6 min readJun 13, 2020

#Boston; #UnitedStates; #hydroxychloroquine, #Covid19Pandemic; #TheLancet; #Barcelona

Boston (United States), Jun 13: Through the fog of alleged misconduct, hope, hype, and politicization that surrounds hydroxychloroquine, the malaria drug touted as a COVID-19 treatment, a scientific picture is now emerging, Eric Topol, said director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute, said.

The Germans Trias i Pujol University Hospital near Barcelona, Spain, where a prevention trial with hydroxychloroquine took place. Image credit: FELIPE DANA/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Praised by presidents as a potential miracle cure and dismissed by others as a deadly distraction, hydroxychloroquine was spared a seeming death blow last week. On 4 June, after critics challenged the data, The Lancet suddenly retracted a paper that had suggested the drug increased the death rate in COVID-19 patients, a finding that had stopped many clinical trials in their tracks. But now three large studies, two in people exposed to the virus and at risk of infection and the other in severely ill patients, show no benefit from the drug. Coming on top of earlier smaller trials with disappointing findings, the new results mean it’s time to move on, some scientists say, and end most of the trials still in progress.

“It just seems like we are ignoring signal after signal,” says Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. U.S. President Donald Trump’s promotion of it led to a scientific “obsession” with hydroxychloroquine despite thin evidence for its promise, he says. “We’d be better off shifting our attention to drugs that might actually work.” Peter Kremsner of the University of Tübingen agrees hydroxychloroquine “certainly isn’t a wonder drug.” The new results left him “wrestling” with the question of whether to proceed with two hydroxychloroquine trials, one in hospitals and the other in patients with milder illness at home.

Asha Bajaj

I write on national and international Health, Politics, Business, Education, Environment, Biodiversity, Science, First Nations, Humanitarian, gender, women