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Researchers at the University of Minnesota in the US have initiated a clinical trial to asses anti-malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, a generic and derivative of chloroquine, to fight Covid-19.

According to Reuters, the medication is also being assessed in China, Australia and France.

Last month, China National Center for Biotechnology Development reported that chloroquine phosphate demonstrated ‘certain curative effect’ with ‘fairly good efficacy’ in clinical studies.

Hydroxychloroquine is said to have a direct antiviral effect, as well as suppresses the generation of proteins linked to the inflammatory complications of various viral diseases.

According to initial data from a French study, 25% of patients treated with hydroxychloroquine carried the coronavirus after six days, compared to 90% of those administered with a placebo.

In the trial by the University of Minnesota, the drug is being assessed for its ability to prevent or mitigate the severity of Covid-19.

University of Minnesota Medical School clinical affairs vice-president Dr Jakub Tolar was quoted as saying: “We are trying to leverage the science to see if we can do something in addition to minimising contacts. Results are likely in weeks, not months.”

ASHP reports shortages

At a press briefing on 19 March, US President Donald Trump called hydroxychloroquine a powerful and relatively safe drug for malaria.

In a statement, Trump said: “It’s a common malaria drug.  It’s been available, so, therefore, the safety level we understand very well. It’s been relatively safe.  And it showed very encouraging early results.”

However, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) added hydroxychloroquine to its list of drugs in shortage on 19 March. ASHP said that four out of eight manufacturers are now in shortage.

University of Utah Health drug information senior director Erin Fox, who maintains ASHP’s shortages list, noted that pharmacists are unable to access the drug or fill prescriptions in full.

Reuters added that the drug is not currently on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)’s drugs in shortage list.

The FDA is working with other government agencies and academic centres assessing the use of chloroquine for Covid-19.

Companies ramp up availability

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries donated more than six million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets to hospitals in the US to cater to the need for the drug as an investigational Covid-19 treatment.

In addition, Mylan restarted manufacturing hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets at its West Virginia facility in the US to meet the demand for the novel coronavirus treatment.

Bayer also announced in a tweet that the company is donating three million Resochin (chloroquine phosphate) tablets after limited data revealed its potential efficacy in treating Covid-19.