UK Covid-19 trial ends hydroxychloroquine study because there’s no evidence the drug benefits patients
A major clinical trial showed the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine had no benefit for patients hospitalized with Covid-19, likely closing the door to the use of the highly publicized medicine in the sickest patients — a use for which it was widely prescribed as the pandemic hit the U.S.
The results come from a study called RECOVERY, funded by the U.K. government, that sought to randomly assign large numbers of patients to multiple potential treatments in the country’s National Health Service. The goal was to rapidly get answers as to what worked and what didn’t.
“Today’s preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are quite clear – hydroxychloroquine does not reduce the risk of death among hospitalized patients with this new disease,” University of Oxford epidemiologist Martin Landray, one of the study’s leaders, said in a statement. “This result should change medical practice worldwide and demonstrates the importance of large, randomized trials to inform decisions about both the efficacy and the safety of treatments.”
As part of the trial, 1,542 Covid patients were randomly selected to receive hydroxychloroquine as a treatment compared with 3,132 patients who received the usual standard care.
The data showed that after about 28 days, 25.7% of the patients who received hydroxychloroquine had died compared with 23.5% of patients who received usual care alone.
Other drugs continuing to be tested include: the combination of HIV antivirals Lopinavir and Ritonavir; a low dose of the steroid Dexamethasone, typically used to reduce inflammation; antibiotic Azithromycin; and the anti inflammatory drug Tocilizumab.
Researchers are also testing convalescent plasma from the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19, which contains antibodies to fight the virus.
“That is not statistically significant, but as you can see from the numbers, that result shows that there’s really no evidence of a benefit,” Landray said.
“I think we can say that this data convincingly rule out any meaningful mortality benefit,” Landray said. “Our conclusion is that this treatment does not reduce the risk of dying from Covid among hospital patients. That clearly has a significant importance for the way that patients are treated not only in the UK, but all around the world.”
Oxford professor Peter Horby, the lead investigator on the Recovery Trial, said there was probably a “very large number” of people around the world taking hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19, with countries including the U.S., China and Brazil authorising it.
A separate clinical trial on Wednesday in the U.S. and Canada found that taking hydroxychloroquine shortly after being exposed to COVID-19 does not work to prevent infection significantly better than a placebo.