TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwan's Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) announced on Tuesday (26) that clinical trials of an anti-malarial drug Trump had touted as a "miracle cure" for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) have shown no significant improvement over other medications, while the risks of side effects are higher.
After touting the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine for months as a "miracle cure" for COVID-19, Trump last week revealed that he was taking the drug daily to protect him from contracting the virus. However, on Monday (May 25), the World Health Organization (WHO) halted clinical trials of the drug after a study published in the Lancet medical journal on May 22 found that patients were more likely to die if they took the medication.
When asked on Tuesday to comment on the reports, Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) Advisory Specialist Panel Convener and infectious disease specialist Chang Shan-chwen (張上淳) said that because most patients in Taiwan have a mild form of the disease, studies have been carried out on the drug to see if it would shorten the time it takes for a patient to go from testing positive to testing negative. However, the results of the clinical trials found that there was no significant difference with patients who received different medications, and the CECC is considering adjusting guidelines as a result.
Chang said that because a previous French study had shown some promising results in the lab, the drug was included in the fourth version of the guidelines for laboratories in Taiwan.
Chang said that there is currently not enough clinical evidence to prove that the drug is effective. He said that domestic clinical trials were held, but the results were inconsistent, prompting the CECC to take a conservative approach with the medication.
The CECC team member said that there had not been any large-scale reports on the drug's use on COVID-19 until very recently. He said that it can be seen from new reports coming in that the clinical effect is in fact "poor," no better than the control group, and has serious side effects.
In the Lancet study, Chang said it seems that the mortality rate is "a little bit higher," so he said that Taiwan's expert group has started to discuss this topic. He said that in the case of the drug's use in Taiwan, he listed a study carried out on patients in Taipei.
Chang said that the average number of days it took for patients to go from a positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for the disease to a negative one took 19.4 days when taking hydroxychloroquine. Patients who were given chloroquine plus hydroxychloroquine and antibiotics took 21.3 days to recover.
Meanwhile, patients who did not take any of the above-mentioned drugs recovered within 22.5 days. Chang explained that these results showed that there was no significant difference among the three groups.
The disease expert stressed that because most of the coronavirus cases in Taiwan are mild, the studies were an attempt to see if recovery times could be shortened, but there did not seem to be a "very obvious effect." Given the steady stream of studies presenting negative findings, Chang said the CECC is considering adjusting its guidelines for the drug.