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WHO made the announcement on Wednesday after new data and studies showed no benefit. The drug had been part of large multi-country trial of treatments.
WHO expert Ana Maria Henao-Restrepo said investigators leading the so-called Solidarity Trial testing the drug had decided to stop recruiting new patients after reviewing recent evidence.
“After deliberation, they have concluded that the hydroxychloroquine arm will be stopped from the Solidarity Trial,” Henao-Restrepo told a media briefing.
In a statement issued later on Wednesday, the WHO said the decision was based on evidence from the Solidarity Trial itself.
The decision was also based off a UK-led trial that had found the drug did not help COVID-19 patients and from a review of other evidence on hydroxychloroquine.
Data from those studies “showed that hydroxychloroquine does not result in the reduction of mortality of hospitalised COVID-19 patients,” the WHO statement said.
It said Solidarity Trial investigators would not add any more patients to the hydroxychloroquine arm.
But it added: “Patients who had already started hydroxychloroquine but who have not yet finished their course in the trial may complete their course or stop at the discretion of the supervising physician.”
Data from a UK-led clinical trial known as the Recovery trial found last week that the anti-malaria drug showed no benefit for patients with COVID-19.
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The US Food and Drug Administration on Monday revoked its emergency use authorization for hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19, saying it was no longer reasonable to believe that hydroxychloroquine and the related drug chloroquine would be effective in treating the disease.
The drug had previously been praised by US president Donald Trump, who had labelled it a “game changer”.
Vocal support from Trump for hydroxychloroquine to be used as a treatment for coronavirus kicked off a heated debate and raised expectations for the decades-old drug.
The drug was praised to be a cheap and widely available tool in fighting the pandemic by the US president.
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University of Minnesota researchers tested 821 people who had recently been exposed to the virus or lived in a high-risk household.
This is the first major study comparing hydroxychloroquine to a placebo to gauge its effect against the new coronavirus.
It found 11.8 percent of subjects given hydroxychloroquine developed symptoms compatible with COVID-19, compared with 14.3%who got a placebo.
That difference was not statistically significant, meaning the drug was no better than placebo.
“Our data is pretty clear that for post exposure, this does not really work,” said Dr. David Boulware, the trial’s lead researcher and an infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota.
Several trials of the drug have been stopped over concerns about its safety for treating COVID-19 that were raised by health regulators and previous less rigorous studies.
“I think both sides – one side who is saying ‘this is a dangerous drug’ and the other side that says ‘this works’ – neither is correct,” said Boulware.
The results were also published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The findings come after Trump said hydroxychloroquine used in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin had “a real chance to be one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” back in March.
However, the US president has little evidence to back up that claim.
He later said he took the drugs preventively after two people who worked at the White House were diagnosed with COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
More than 20 percent of the trial subjects also took zinc, which had no significant effect.
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