Hydroxychloroquine: Anti-malaria drug to be given to coronavirus patients in Australia
Australia says the inclusion of the medicine in its national medical stockpile was based on not only its proven clinical uses, but on its potential clinical utility in the absence of a well-documented treatment.
Hydroxychloroquine – the anti-malaria drug which has become US President Donald Trump’s “miracle cure” for coronavirus -- will be given to Australian Covid-19 patients in hospitals outside of clinical trials, the Australian government has confirmed.
The move comes after the therapeutic goods registration requirements for two drugs were waived to allow them to be imported to and stockpiled in Australia. So far, Australia has reported at least 50 deaths and more than 6,000 deaths from the novel coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The drugs -- hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine -- are being explored in clinical trials around the world for their potential as a coronavirus treatment to ease symptoms, or as a preventative drug to stop people being overcome with the infection.
But many virologists and infectious disease experts have cautioned that the excitement over hydroxychloroquine is premature.
Hydroxychloroquine has also caused division within the White House, Axios reported, after Trump, called it as a “game changer” in treating the virus. The White House infectious disease expert warned Trump that evidence for the drug was only anecdotal and far from proven.
A health department spokesman in Australia said the inclusion of the medicine in the national medical stockpile was based on not only its proven clinical uses, but on its potential clinical utility in the absence of a well-documented treatment, the Guardian reported.
While “clinical trials are critical for ensuring the safety and effectiveness of potential treatments, before they are made available through the health system”, the spokesman said, the drug would be made available not only for clinical trials but “for use in hospitals for ill patients”.
The government said under an emergency exemption to therapeutic goods registration requirements the drug would be sourced from overseas and imported, including intermediates and other raw materials so that local manufacturing could occur.
According to the department, former Australian politician Clive Palmer, who has said he will produce 1m doses of the drug, has a prior written arrangement with the commonwealth and so his plan aligned with the emergency exemption.
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Australia has also confirmed that it will provide doses. And the government is investing $1.5 million to support guidance for clinicians to ensure they are given the best possible advice on managing Covid-19 patients.
An infectious diseases expert and former World Health Organization adviser, Prof Peter Collignon, said he was concerned the stockpiling was being driven by hype and panic. “It a very bad idea to have panic driving drugs we are going to give to people and chloroquine is just an example of panic,” he said.
“It is very important to look at and evaluate these drugs around the world but to only issue these drugs after that evaluation. Or we run the risk of killing people."
He said Australia was not overwhelmed with patients in hospitals like New York and London were, so Australia had time to make careful and considered clinical decisions.