More doubts over chloroquine emerged this week, with new studies pointing to high risks and a US top health official saying he was fired after being pressured to direct money towards the “game changer” drug.
According to foreign media, the director of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Rick Bright, says he was pressured to direct money toward hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug touted by US President Donald Trump as a “game changer” and potential treatment for the coronavirus.
Bright, who was ousted from the Department of Health and Human Services’ BARDA, was assigned to another position after also being removed this week as the deputy assistant secretary for preparedness and response.
New studies suggest no benefit with researchers saying there were more deaths among patients given hydroxychloroquine compared to standard care
The health official had stood in the way of the Trump administration’s efforts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a potential drug treatment for the novel coronavirus, with the health official essentially limiting the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine.
“I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions, and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit," Bright said in a statement.
A number of small studies around the world, including the United States, recently found that the malaria drug demonstrated no benefits to patients, with researchers concluding there were more deaths among those given hydroxychloroquine compared to standard care.
Cyprus firm coating chloroquine pills
Earlier this month, an Israeli military plane delivered five tons of chloroquine to Cyprus, where a Limassol-based pharmaceutical company said it would manufacture and ship sugar-coated chloroquine phosphate tablets to Israel, which promised to donate millions of pills to US hospitals.
Cyprus and many other countries including the US and India had banned exports of chloroquine, but New Delhi okayed the delivery to the island following a phone conversation with the US president.
Trump made headlines in mid-March when he seized on anectodal reports about Covid-19 infected patients who recovered quickly after using the drug. He reportedly told people to "take it" adding "what do you have to lose?"
But doctors and researchers have warned against the drug with some arguing that certain drug mixtures involving chloroquine could cause heart attacks and rapid death in certain patients.
Cyprus among first to establish national protocol
Health Minister Constantinos Ioannou, who announced in late March that Cyprus was moving forward with the production of chloroquine quantities, also clarified that there was “no approved treatment to deal with the coronavirus.”
But at the same time, the government also approved treatment protocols in late March both for adults and children, making the Republic of Cyprus one of the first countries to establish national protocols for chloroquine amid the pandemic.
Official accuses US administration of politics and cronysim
Bright, who said he was speaking out in favour of science and against “politics and cronyism” in the combat against the disease, called for an investigation into “the manner in which [the Trump] administration has politicized the work of BARDA.”
The top official indirectly accused the Trump administration of putting pressure on him and “other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections and efforts that lack scientific merit."
The Trump administration has dismissed the allegations, saying Bright was a “polarizing figure” and clashed repeatedly with the assistant health secretary over procedures.
Bright admitted that he resisted efforts to fund “potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connections.”
"Rushing blindly towards unproven drugs can be disastrous and result in countless more deaths. Science, in service to the health and safety of the American people, must always trump politics," Bright said.
The US president told reporters he was unaware of Bright’s job transfer.
“You just mentioned the name, I never heard of him. When did this happen? I never heard of him. The guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. I’d have to hear the other side. I don’t know who he is,” Trump said.
Reports also said Bright did authorize the use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine but he “insisted that these drugs be provided only to hospitalized patients with confirmed Covid-19 while under the supervision of a physician.”
No chloroquine results announced in Cyprus yet
Infected patients hospitalized in the Republic of Cyprus have also been given chloroquine in combination with other medical drugs during the coronavirus outbreak.
While 13 patients so far have died of the Covid-19 disease, fatalities included healthy patients including an adult male who went into cardiac arrest during treatment. It was not clear whether he had received chloroquine and whether it had been effective.
No results have been announced yet in the Republuic of Cyprus regarding the effectiveness of chloroquine in Covid-19 patients.