The malaria treatment that US President Donald Trump has repeatedly advocated as a "game changer" in the fight against the novel coronavirus has again shown no benefit, according to a study published on Thursday in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
While the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine had certain limitations, doctors reported that the use of hydroxychloroquine did not reduce the need for patients who need breathing assistance, nor did it reduce the risk of death.
"We have seen no connection between receiving this medicine and the possibility of dying or intubation," said lead researcher Dr. Neil Schluger in a telephone interview with Reuters. "The patients who got the drug didn't seem to be doing it better."
Of the patients who received hydroxychloroquine, 32.3% needed a ventilator or died compared to 14.9% of those who did not.
However, doctors were more likely to give hydroxychloroquine to sick patients, so researchers at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University's Irving Medical Center adjusted rates to take this into account. They concluded that the drug may not have hurt any patients, but it clearly didn't help.
Decades of hydroxychloroquine, which is also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, also showed no benefit in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin, Schluger's team reported. Azithromycin alone also showed no benefit.
Last month, Department of Veterinary Physicians reported that hydroxychloroquine did not help COVID-19 patients and could pose a higher risk of death.
This analysis of the medical records showed a mortality rate of 28% when the drug was given in addition to standard treatments, compared to 11% when using standard treatment alone.
In the most recent study, 811 patients received hydroxychloroquine and 565 did not.
Because they were not accidentally treated with hydroxychloroquine or a placebo, "the study should not be done to rule out any benefit or harm to the drug," the researchers said. Randomized trials, the gold standard for testing new therapies, should continue, they added.
"At the moment, the instructions in our hospital have changed, so we don't recommend giving hydroxychloroquine to hospitalized patients," said Dr. Schluger, head of Irving's Lung, Allergy and Intensive Care Department.
Smaller studies, including one done in China, suggested that hydroxychloroquine could be useful, "but these were tiny studies and not of good quality. People seized them because the patients died," he said.
There are currently no approved treatments for COVID-19, although Gilead Sciences Inc.'s experimental antiviral drug Remdesivir received emergency approval from the U.S. regulators last week.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)