Calgary

Alberta pauses trial of hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment

Alberta is following in the steps of the World Health Organization by pausing its trial studying the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

Malaria drug, which was touted by U.S. president, may put some at higher risk of heart problems or death

This April 2020 file photo shows an arrangement of hydroxychloroquine tablets. An Alberta clinical trial which was studying whether or not the medication is an effective treatment for COVID-19 has been put on pause. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

Alberta is following in the steps of the World Health Organization by pausing its trial studying the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.

The trials were put on hold following the publication of a study in medical journal The Lancet last week, that suggests the drug does not help treat COVID-19 and in fact may cause heart problems or a greater risk of death in patients. 

"It certainly made us pause and say, hey, we'd better look at this," said Dr. Luanne Metz, clinical trial lead at the University of Calgary's Cumming School of Medicine.

The trial, which was announced in mid-April, is a collaboration between the U of C, University of Alberta, Alberta Health Services and the provincial government. It aimed to recruit 1,600 people with COVID-19 to assess if the drug, which is used to treat patients with malaria or auto-immune illnesses, could prevent more severe outcomes from the respiratory illness.

"We paused things so we can very closely look at the safety issues, and we're reaching out to other groups around the world that are doing trials similar to ours so we can see what they're doing and what they've learned," she said.

Metz said researchers had been testing the drug on 150 outpatients in the early stages of COVID-19 that had been recruited up until this point, in the hopes of preventing them from having to be admitted to the hospital.

We hear why a trial for a COVID-19 treatment here in Calgary has been put on hold because of potential risks. 6:32

The study excludes people with heart conditions or who are on medication that might have a negative interaction with the drug, unlike the study in the Lancet, which was not a randomized controlled trial but did involve a large sample size of nearly 100,000 patients.

Metz said there were no early signs of safety problems in their trial but said the sample size is too small and it's too soon to tell.

The drug had been touted by some prominent voices early in the pandemic, like U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he was taking hydroxychloroquine despite not testing positive for COVID-19 and little research indicating that the drug could be effective in treating the illness.

In April, Health Canada issued a warning saying it has not authorized any drugs to prevent, treat or cure COVID-19 and said drugs like hydroxychloroquine should not be taken outside of a clinical trial or without the supervision of a medical professional.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener

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