University of Minnesota (UMN) researchers launched a 1,500-person trial this week to test the usefulness of hydroxychloroquine - an inexpensive and US Food and Drug Administration-approved malaria drug - in treating and preventing the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported that the team, consisting of 10 UMN medical scientists, statisticians and pharmacologists, will be administering pills of hydroxychloroquine to study participants over a period of five days. A five-day supply of the drug costs around $12.
“Our hypothesis is we’re going to reduce the number who get sick by 50%, and hopefully more than that.” Dr. David R. Boulware, an infectious disease physician-scientist with UMN, told the Pioneer Press on Wednesday. Boulware is leading the research, which began on Tuesday following approval from UMN’s board of ethics for a national clinical trial.
The lead researcher told the outlet that his team’s largest obstacle will be finding enough participants who know for certain that they’ve been exposed to the novel coronavirus.
“The inclusion is someone with a known exposure to someone they live with, or a health care worker exposed to a patient,” Boulware explained. “Those are the people with the highest risk of transmission. If it works in this highest-risk group, it will work in lower-risk groups, as well.”
According to the New York Times, previous reports out of China and France have detailed that hydroxychloroquine may be successful in preventing COVID-19 from entering human cells. However, more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Two other novel coronavirus treatment studies have been launched using the blood pressure drug losartan, reported Reuters on Thursday. Losartan assists in protecting one’s kidneys from damage inflicted by diabetes and is also commonly used among patients with hypertension.
Despite the fears of being unable to obtain the desired number of participants, Dr. Jakub Tolar, the dean of the UMN Medical School and vice president for clinical affairs, told Reuters that “results are likely in weeks, not months.”
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that those possibly infected with COVID-19 may experience worsened symptoms if they choose to ingest anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen.
"In the meantime, we recommend using … paracetamol, and do not use ibuprofen as a self-medication. That's important," WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier announced to reporters in Geneva, Switzerland. It’s worth noting that paracetamol, also known as acetaminophen, should only be taken in its prescribed amounts, as it may damage the liver if abused.