Speculation about treating the new coronavirus with malaria drugs is raising hopes, and now a shortage of these drugs is complicating access for people who need them for rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.
Chloroquine and a similar drug, hydroxychloroquine have shown encouraging signs in small, early tests against the coronavirus. President Trump tweeted that hydroxychloroquine plus an antibiotic could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and should “be put in use immediately.” However, scientists warn about raising false hopes and say major studies are needed to prove the drugs are safe and effective against coronavirus. In addition, the drugs can cause heart rhythm problems, severely low blood pressure and muscle or nerve damage.
Chloroquine has been used to treat malaria since the 1930s. Hydroxychloroquine came along a decade later and has fewer side effects. The latter is sold in generic form and under the brand name Plaquenil for use against several diseases. Plaquenil’s label warns of possible damage to the retina, especially when used at higher doses, for longer times and with certain other medicines such as the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
Meanwhile, supply for the drug is already low for those patients who need it for other medical conditions. Four of the seven companies that make generic hydroxychloroquine have reported shortages