Medical Mishaps

Chloroquine: the miracle drug that never was

It was never meant to be.

In the first few months of the Covid-19 pandemic, one drug captured hearts and minds unlike any other: Chloroquine.

Along with its less toxic twin, hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine had many admirers, but none were perhaps so ardent as President Donald Trump, who touted hydroxychloroquine as a sort of miracle drug capable of curing Covid-19, despite evidence casting doubt on its benefits. These doubts were not without merit — some studies discouraged using chloroquine to treat Covid-19 due to the adverse — and even fatal — side effects it came with, like arrhythmia.

Chloroquine's tale is a lesson in why medical science needs to be given time to work before claims can be made as to a drug's powers. It is also a cautionary story, revealing what happens when misinformation about a drug makes it into the public conversation and goes viral.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 STORIES THAT MADE US SAY 'WTF' IN 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 8. SEE THE FULL LIST HERE.

Medical worker in full protective suit holding hydroxychloroquine drug tabletsAlexSava

March 17, 2020 — On this day, a small, preliminary study sent the medical community into a frenzy over a potential Covid-19 treatment. The drug, chloroquine, has been used to treat malaria since the 1940s.

Within days, the news media had picked up on this potential cure, and the anti-malarial drug went from relative academic obscurity to viral sensation, with the number of chloroquine prescriptions surging to heights never before seen.

Two days later, on Thursday, March 19, President Trump incorrectly suggested the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had already approved chloroquine for COVID-19 treatment, even though the agency had not approved any other drug to treat this particular coronavirus. The FDA didn't take long though, approving chloroquine for emergency use on March 28.

The viral surge was aided by controversial support from high-profile non-experts, including Elon Musk, who tweeted: "Maybe worth considering chloroquine for C19," and linked to a Google document on the drug.

As fast as the treatment went viral, so did the backlash follow suit.

The International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, which publishes the journal containing the chloroquine research, issued a statement on April 3, 2020. They expressed serious concerns about the study's methodology and called into question its findings.

Potential coronavirus drugs, illustration. Clockwise from upper left are molecules of the nucleotide analogue remdesivir, the antiretroviral protease inhibitor lopinavir, the protease inhibitor camostat mesilate and the antimalaria and antiviral drug chloroquine.JUAN GAERTNER/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Anthony Fauci, chief of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned we couldn't conclude whether the drug was a solid Covid-19 treatment without additional studies, too.

And even though President Trump himself claimed to be taking the drug since March, news outlets started questioning whether it was the right to call this drug a "game changer," when scientists still knew so little about its efficacy as a coronavirus treatment.

An Arizona man even died in March after ingesting chloroquine phosphate. His wife told reporters the man had been influenced by President Trump's comments about chloroquine during televised briefings.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the FDA canceled its emergency authorization for chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine on June 15, 2020, after studies found the drugs were an ineffective treatment for Covid-19. As the FDA stated:"These medicines showed no benefit for decreasing the likelihood of death or speeding recovery" for the coronavirus.

Just as quickly as it rose to prominence, chloroquine vanished into the annals of viral oblivion. But the drug endures as an example of what can happen when hasty science and medical misreporting coincides with a pandemic.

INVERSE IS COUNTING DOWN THE 20 STORIES THAT MADE US SAY 'WTF' IN 2020. THIS IS NUMBER 8. READ THE ORIGINAL STORY HERE.

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