If you’re looking for a potential silver lining in the coronavirus pandemic, here’s something. On Monday, Amneal Pharmaceuticals announced it will donate 400,000 tablets of the drug, hydroxychloroquine, to treat some patients with the coronavirus. In small anecdotal cases, hydroxychloroquine has successfully relieved the acute respiratory symptoms of those infected by the COVID-19 virus. The drug, which has been used for years to treat malaria and other illnesses, has shown promise when it comes to clearing the virus from infected patients, according to The Washington Post.
On Monday, The Food and Drug Administration gave emergency approval to distribute millions of doses of hydroxychloroquine to hospitals across the country.
“It is reasonable to believe that hydroxychloroquine sulfate may be effective in treating COVID-19,'' the FDA’s chief scientist, Denise Hinton, wrote in the letter granting emergency approval.
The 400,000 tablets donated to Louisiana will be used on two fronts. Initial trials will be conducted at the University Medical Center in New Orleans and at the LSU School of Medicine locations in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. The tablets will also be available for use at other Louisiana hospitals.
"This donation will allow us to conduct clinical trials examining how hydroxychloroquine may help clear the virus from the lungs of infected patients and to potentially help shield health care workers who are on the front lines treating patients," Dr. Steve Nelson, dean of LSU Health Sciences Center School of Medicine, said in a prepared statement.
The drug first gained national attention after President Donald Trump said during a news conference he was hopeful hydroxychloroquine could end up as a “game-changer” when treating the coronavirus. The national media, many of whom suffer from severe and seemingly incurable Trump Derangement Syndrome, ridiculed the president for offering hope.
But since then, the use of the drug has grown. Major medical centers including the University of Washington and Mass General at Harvard Medical School have added hydroxychloroquine to treatment options.
And former Kansas governor and practicing surgeon Dr. Jeff Colyer says there are now two case studies showing coronavirus patients treated with hydroxychloroquine have fewer symptoms and are doing better. Colyer says at this point, hydroxychloroquine is the only option they have when treating those with the coronavirus. He describes the drug as a low-risk medication with a good safety profile. But Colyer also admits more testing is needed. Some of that testing will take place in Louisiana.
“You go to war with the army you have, not the army you wish you had,” Colyer said in describing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus.
Doctors in Canada have also begun to use hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus patients.
“It’s unlikely to worsen COVID-19 and given that it might help ... we have literally nothing else to offer these patients other than supportive care,” said Dr. David Juurlink, at The University of Toronto.
Coronavirus patient Rio Giardinieri told the New York Post he was on his deathbed when hydroxychloroquine saved his life. Doctors in South Florida told him there was nothing more they could do for him. Giardinieri was struggling with what he described as horrendous back pain, severe headaches, cough and fatigue for five days after catching the coronavirus. Doctors instructed him to say goodbye to his wife and three children.
“I was at the point where I was barely able to speak and breathing was very challenging,” Giardinieri said. “I really thought my end was there.”
But as a last resort doctors gave Giardinieri hydroxychloroquine. He says when he woke up the next morning it was “like nothing ever happened,” and he was fully recovered.
“To me, there was no doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t make it until morning,” said Giardinieri. “So, to me, the drug saved my life.”
Hopefully, hydroxychloroquine ends up as the medical breakthrough we’ve all been hoping for. Researchers say we should know more in a couple of weeks.
Most of us are doing the right thing and staying home whenever possible to ensure the coronavirus doesn’t spread.
The hope of hydroxychloroquine shouldn’t change that. It’s encouraging to see so many unite to fight our common enemy. We will defeat the virus. But it’s going to take time. Patience should be the order of the day.
Email Dan Fagan at Faganshow@gmail.com.