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Donald Trump & Elon Musk Think Chloroquine is The Answer to Coronavirus, But What is it?

What is Chloroquine? Chloroquine phosphate is a class of drugs called antimalarials and amebicides and is used to prevent and treat malaria. It has been clinically tested in China and recommended for further use against Coronavirus, or COVID.

Vishal Mathur
Chloroquine WW125 tablet (Image: Drugs,com)

Let us make one thing clear from the start. There are only two ways to hopefully reduce your chances of catching the Coronavirus—wash your hands with soap, a lot, and also use hand sanitizers a lot. That is, till the medical community tells us otherwise. As things stand, US President Donald Trump and Tesla CEO Elon Musk are insistent that Chloroquine is the definite answer to treating the Coronavirus. In fact, just yesterday, Trump announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had approved the use of Chloroquine to treat the Coronavirus. The FDA shot back, confirming that it had done no such thing. Chloroquine had not been approved. In fact, it is not even close. In the meantime, Musk also chimed in on Twitter to lend his support to the President and Chloroquine. Yes, the same Elon Musk who called Coronavirus panic as dumb, refused to shut down the Tesla plant for the safety of the employees and got a rap on the knuckles from the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office as a result.

“The FDA has been working closely with other government agencies and academic centers that are investigating the use of the drug chloroquine, which is already approved for treating malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, to determine whether it can be used to treat patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 to potentially reduce the duration of symptoms, as well as viral shedding, which can help prevent the spread of disease. Studies are underway to determine the efficacy in using chloroquine to treat COVID-19,” said the FDA in a statement. Earlier, Trump had said, “It's shown very encouraging -- very, very encouraging early results. And we're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately. And that's where the FDA has been so great. They -- they've gone through the approval process; it's been approved. And they did it -- they took it down from many, many months to immediate. So we're going to be able to make that drug available by prescription or states,” as reported by CNN.

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What does this mean? The FDA statement amply clarifies Trump’s comments to the American and indeed the global audience that the use of Chloroquine has not been approved by the FDA to treat the Coronavirus, or COVID-19. In fact, FDA went on to clarify that it has not approved any particular drug for treating the rapidly spreading Coronavirus.

Back to the main point of this entire debate? What is Chloroquine? Chloroquine phosphate is a class of drugs called antimalarials and amebicides and is used to prevent and treat malaria, according to the US National Library of Medicine. They add that Chloroquine phosphate is used occasionally to decrease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and to treat systemic and discoid lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, pemphigus, lichen planus, polymyositis, sarcoidosis, and porphyria cutanea tarda.

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Nothing changes till the clinical tests are done and the results are positive.

But there could be some merit in Trump’s argument, though trying to force the FDA’s hand is debatable. A research published in Bioscience Trends on March 16 said, “The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) virus is spreading rapidly, and scientists are endeavoring to discover drugs for its efficacious treatment in China. Chloroquine phosphate, an old drug for treatment of malaria, is shown to have apparent efficacy and acceptable safety against COVID-19 associated pneumonia in multicenter clinical trials conducted in China.” It also said that the drug is recommended to be included in the next version of the Guidelines for the Prevention, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Pneumonia Caused by COVID-19 issued by the National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China for treatment of COVID-19 infection in larger populations in the future.

After Trump’s announcement, pharma giant Bayer said that it will donate 3 million doses of its chloroquine phosphate drug, called Resochin, to the US government. “New data from initial preclinical and evolving clinical research conducted in China, while limited, shows potential for the use of Resochin in treating patients with COVID-19 infection,” the company said in a statement shared with the media.

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The University of Minnesota is conducting a study in which hydroxychloroquine is being given to people who live with a coronavirus patient to understand if it can help in prevention of the infection, according to the New York Times.

According to Drugs.com the Chloroquine sells for around $6.63 per tablet at medical stores in the US. That would be around Rs 500 per tablet, direct conversion, before factoring in taxes and local levies. Chloroquine is an ingredient in multiple drugs sold around the world—for instance, Emquin-DS sold my Merck in India, Resochin sold by Bayer in multiple countries including US, india, Austria, Spain and Bulgaria, Avloclor made by AstraZeneca and Nivaquine made by Sanofi-Aventis, to name a few.

Incidentally, Rising Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based drug company, had hiked the price of its Chloroquine phosphate tablets by as much as 98% between December 2019 and January 2020, according to data provided to STAT by the publishing and analytics company Elsevier. The unit price went from $3.87 to $7.66 for a 250-milligram tablet.

Chloroquine isn’t new. It has been around since the second World War and is derived from the bark of the chinchona tree. However, Chloroquine is not safe for everyone. It is usually not recommended to anyone who suffers from heart arrhythmia, or those with kidney or liver issues.

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