ICMR to continue restricted use of Hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 despite critical US study

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The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has decided to continue to use anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) to treat critical Covid-19 patients in the country despite adverse findings reported by a US study.

The study conducted at US Veterans Health Administration medical centres reported that the study had not found the drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a game changer in the treatment of Covid-19 patients beneficial on a group of patients admitted in the health centres.

An ICMR official was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying that they will allow restricted use of the drug in high-risk patients until the results of the studies now underway are known. The central drugs controller in the country had towards the end of March approved the use of HCQ under “restricted use” category, primarily for the studies that ICMR wanted to carry out.

ICMR has said that it is conducting a two-arm study on the prophylactic (prevention) and therapeutic (treatment) effects of HCQ against Covid-19. As prophylactic, the drug has been recommended for asymptomatic health care workers involved in the care of suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19. As therapeutic medicine, it is being given to critically ill Covid-19 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) to see if their dependency on oxygen support is reduced.

“We are generating our own data, and will take a decision according to our own results. The study to check its therapeutic use will take about 2-2.5 months to complete which should provide us the evidence against or for it. It will be too premature to say anything at this stage even though we are closely looking at all the data coming from other countries,” the HT report quoted the official who did not wish to be identified as saying.

In the US study made public on April 16, researchers analysed medical records of 368 hospitalised patients with the coronavirus infection at Veterans Health Administration medical centres. About 28% of these patients, who were given HCQ plus usual care, died. On the other hand, 11% of the patients, who got routine care alone, succumbed to the infection. The drug made no difference in the need for a breathing machine either, according to the study.

However, Switzerland-based drug maker Novartis announced a few days ago that it had reached an agreement with the US FDA to carry out a Phase III trial assessing HCQ as a treatment for hospitalised Covid-19 patients, for which it will be recruiting about 440 patients in at least a dozen sites in the US.

Image Credit: LA Times

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