Malaria drug being studied, ‘on the list’ of possible COVID-19 treatments: Tam

TORONTO — A drug widely used to treat malaria and other inflammatory illnesses is being studied as a possible treatment for COVID-19, said the country’s chief medical officer.

Dr. Theresa Tam told reporters at a news conference Sunday that Canada is involved in current research looking at the safety and efficacy of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus patients. The drug, which has some major potential side effects, particularly for the heart, has proven effective in treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and malaria.

“We do not have any specific treatments—none proven to work for COVID-19—but hydroxychloroquine is one that is being studied. In Canada we are part of those studies,” said Tam.

“It’s definitely one on the list of treatments that we are looking at for COVID-19.”

Tam added that Health Canada and manufacturers of the drug, of which there are some in Canada, will work together to ensure the supply is sufficient for people who are taking it for other conditions. If the government needs to boost that supply, she said they have the capacity to do so.

“Making sure that we have enough for the patients that actually need it for other purposes … is our primary concern right now,” she added.

Tam acknowledged that there is a “great deal of interest globally” in the drug. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine. He recently named a French study that suggested the drug plus a common antibiotic called azithromycin might help treat COVID-19, a claim that the country’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci called “anecdotal.”