France is to start widespread clinical tests on the long-established anti-malaria drug chloroquine, seen by some as a possible cure for patients seriously ill after infection with Kovid -19. The drug’s apparently successful use in a Marseille hospital has sparked an online petition for a roll out.
Politicians and well-known personalities are among those calling for the drug and its derivative hydroxychloroquine to be made available to all infected patients with serious symptoms.
French Les Républicains MP Valérie Boyer, interviewed on BFMTV on Sunday, said she had received the treatment after signing a type of disclaimer and she is now well enough to continue her recovery at home.
Leading the push for more use of Chloroquine and its derivative hydroxychloroquine is Pr. Didier Raoult, a leading specialist in infectious diseases at the University Hospital of Marseille. He announced on Sunday that he will treat his patients with a mix of drugs including hydroxychloroquine.
Raoult was a member of President Macron’s special Scientific Committee advising on Kovid-19 but he stood down from the Committee within days and disassociated himself from its decision not to test widely and to impose a national lockdown.
Initially Chloroquine was not among the anti-viral drugs the government chose for clinical trials so Raoult conducted his own limited trials. Health Minister Olivier Véran has since described the results as ‘promising’ and on Saturday ordered widespread clinical trials on Chloroquine “as quickly as possible”.
However, several scientists have criticized Raoult’s studies and pointed out that his sample group of patients was very small. His study also concentrates on the level of virus in the nose and mouth, without details on the overall state of the patient.
Pr. Jean-François Timsit, head of Intensive Care for infectious diseases at Bichat Hospital, said in some patients he had treated, although the virus could not be detected in the nose and throat, it could be seen in the lungs.
The head of the Pharmacology unit at Bordeaux university, Pr. Mathieu Molimard said demonstrating that the drug reduces levels of the virus is not enough. He said it must be clear that a drug has an impact on the patient’s recovery.
There are also concerns among experts about the possible side effects.
“There is always a desire to skip stages in the testing procedure for drugs’ said Pr. Bernard Bégaud of Bordeaux University Pharmacology Unit”, but he added that “chloroquine is not a harmless drug”.
Pr. Raoult points out that it is already frequently used to treat Malaria.