A new observational study conducted on the effect of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine on COVID-19 patients found that the medications provide no benefit and are actually “associated with an increased risk of in-hospital mortality.” The study, which is the largest of its kind conducted on the drugs, was published in The Lancet Friday.
For the study, researchers reviewed the cases of just over 96,000 patients treated for COVID-19 in 671 hospitals across six continents. Close to 15,000 of them were treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, which have both been used to treat malaria and autoimmune disorders for years. Some patients received one of the drugs by itself. Some took an antibiotic, too.
The patients who received the drugs suffered worse fates that those who didn’t, CNN reports:
About 1 in 11 patients in the control group died in the hospital. About 1 in 6 patients treated with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine alone died in the hospital. About 1 in 5 treated with chloroquine and an antibiotic died and almost 1 in 4 treated with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic died.
The treatments were also associated with a higher rate of dangerous heart arrhythmia.
The researchers write that because their study was observational, they cannot “exclude the possibility of unmeasured confounding factors.” Therefore, they write, “Randomised clinical trials will be required before any conclusion can be reached regarding benefit or harm of these agents in COVID-19 patients.”
Still, the researchers have seen enough to feel confident that the drugs are not an effective treatment for COVID-19. “Justification for repurposing these medicines in this way is based on a small number of anecdotal experiences that suggest they may have beneficial effects for people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” Frank Ruschitzka, a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “However, we now know from our study that the chance that these medications improve outcomes in COVID-19 is quite low.”
The physician Eric Topol, speaking to the Washington Post, provided an even more stark assessment: “It’s one thing not to have benefit, but this shows distinct harm. If there was ever was hope for this drug, this is the death of it.”