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Feds facilitate use of malaria drug for COVID-19

As the medical community accelerates work to develop a vaccine for the coronavirus (COVID-19), the federal government has facilitated the use of a drug long used for malaria to help COVID-19 patients. The decision was announced by President Trump and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

The drug, alternately known as chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, soon will be made available to the public as part of the government’s response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic.

First developed in the 1940s for the treatment of malaria and granted FDA approval in October 1949, it was considered the drug of choice to treat malaria until the development of newer therapies.

The government is considering a number of established drug therapies and other anti-viral options while clinical trials continue on the development of a vaccine for COVID-19, a process that could take a year or more.

Hahn indicated that some of the near-term answers could be made available through the concept of “compassionate use,” where the usual FDA rules are waived if physicians deem it appropriate for a particular condition. The compassionate use concept is established law in states such as California, which have applied it in the case of medical marijuana.

At this point, it’s unclear how fast larger volumes of chloroquine can be manufactured domestically, but Trump indicated the drug will be made available “almost immediately.”

Editor's note: A previous version of this story reported the FDA has formally approved the use chloroquine to treat COVID-19. The FDA is simply making an existing treatment available at physician discretion.

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