WHO halts malaria drug study, eyes steroid for COVID-19

June 18, 2020

Officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) have announced that the large global treatment trial it is leading will drop the hydroxychloroquine arm and that it is taking steps to update its clinical guidance based on new promising treatment findings of the steroid dexamethasone in severely ill patients.

The global COVID-19 total has grown to almost 8,300,000 cases, and nearly 450,000 people have died from their illnesses, according to the Johns Hopkins online dashboard.

At a World Health Organization (WHO) media briefing, Ana Maria Henao Restrepo, MD, unit head of the WHO's research and development blueprint, said review board of the SOLIDARITY trial—a large international randomized controlled trial to test four treatments—looked at the evidence from recent hydroxychloroquine trials. The evidence included data from the Recovery trial in the United Kingdom, in which researchers recently pulled the plug after a review found no benefit for the antimalarial drug.

She said the review board also talked to the principal investigators of the studies before advising that the hydroxychloroquine arm should be stopped. In an email statement, the WHO clarified that investigators won't randomize any more patients to the hydroxychloroquine arm, and that patients who have already started the drug may complete their course or stop, based on the advice of supervising doctors.

Restrepo emphasized that the recommendation does not constitute WHO policy about the drug or apply to any other studies involving it for pre- or post-exposure.

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