Britain spent £20m on anti-HIV and malaria drugs promoted by Donald Trump as cures for Covid-19 despite no solid evidence that they work
- The UK government spent nearly £20mn on drugs including hydroxychloroquine
- Contracts with Britis-based firms were entered into without tendering
- Donald Trump has previously hailed hydroxychloroquine as a ‘game changer’
- There is little or no evidence the malaria drug is effective in treating Covid-19
- Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19
The UK government has spent around £20m on contracts for HIV and malaria drugs including one touted by Donald Trump which has little or no evidence of working to treat Covid-19.
Donald Trump promoted hydroxycholoroquine as a ‘game changer’ in the fight to end the pandemic as recently as yesterday, but a recent survey found it did not improve the odds of survival in 600 coronavirus patients.
According to The Guardian, the government has entered 16 contracts with British companies for hydroxychloroquine, and chloroquine phosphate used for malaria and other diseases and placed major orders for lopinavir-ritonavir, used to treat HIV, in the last two months.
The UK government began ordering hydroxychloroquine around the same time Donald Trump suggested it could be a cure for the coronavirus infection
Dr Rick Bright, the US’ former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. revealed his caution about prescribing two anti-malaria drugs on Thursday
There is no evidence that any of the drugs can effectively treat Covid-19, although testing is now being carried out in the hope that the drugs could be used to keep people out hospital and ease the virus’ symptoms.
Yesterday Donald Trump said: ‘We’ve had a tremendous response to hydroxychloroquine,’ adding: ‘A lot of people have sworn by it.’
His comments came the same day Dr Rick Bright revealed his caution about prescribing two anti-malaria drugs touted by Trump – chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine – without benefit of rigorous double-blind scientific study.
Bright is the former director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority.
Research in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that the lopinavir-ritonavir treatment ‘did not show any observable benefit for patients with severe coronavirus 2019 beyond standard care,’ according to The Guardian.
It comes after a survey in New York found hydroxycholoroquine had little impact on survival rates of patients.
Of the 600-some coronavirus patients treated at 22 New York City area hospitals, some were treated with hydroxychloroquine alone, others were treated with the malaria drug plus the antibiotic azithromycin, and a third group got only the typical supportive care.
Tests continue to be carried out on how effective hydroxychloroquine is in treating Covid-19 patients
‘We don’t see a statistically significant difference between patients who took the drugs and those who did not,’ Dr David Holtgrave, who led the SUNY Albany study told CNN.
The UK government started purchasing around £2m worth of hydroxychloroquine tablets on March 11, around the time Donald Trump claimed it could be a cure for the virus. There has been no evidence to suggest this.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: ‘Clinical trials are currently under way to assess whether existing medicines are safe and effective for treating Covid-19, with more than 10 drugs being tested in this way.’
Chloroquine, Hydroxychloroquine and Lopinavir-ritonavir: What are they and can they help cure Covid?
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine
Chloroquine is an older version of an anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. It’s also an immunosuppressive drug that may treat Lupus.
There were hopes the tablets could be used to stop coronavirus replicating in cells, with a small French study.
In one small French study, some COVID-19 patients showed improvements but there was no way to know if the drug was the reason.
Results published in April from another study in France and one in China found no benefit in patients treated with the drug. Dozens more clinical studies are underway around the world.
More recently the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned against using the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine on coronavirus patients outside of hospital settings or clinical trials.
The federal health agency said it was issuing the warning after several reports of abnormal heart rhythms and rapid heart rates in patients who took the medication.
‘The FDA is aware of reports of serious heart rhythm problems in patients with COVID-19 treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine, often in combination with azithromycin,’ the FDA wrote in a statement.
Often sold as Kaletra, among others brand names, Lopinavir-ritonavir is a fixed dose combination medication for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS.
A recent study from the New England Journal of Medicine followed a 199 patients with laboratory confirmed Covid-19. A total of 99 were assigned into the lopinavir–ritonavir group, and 100 to the standard-care group.
According to the Journal: ‘Treatment with lopinavir–ritonavir was not associated with a difference from standard care in the time to clinical improvement.
‘Mortality at 28 days was similar in the lopinavir–ritonavir group and the standard-care group’