In a recent blog post, Fr Nicanor Austriaco, OP, STD, PhD, said he sees reason to hope that the drug hydroxychloroquine could be used to treat the coronavirus, or COVID-19.
Austriaco is a professor of biology and theology at Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island. He is currently on lockdown in the Philippines with his mother during the coronavirus pandemic.
“As a molecular biologist, what is so exciting for me about this claim is that the clinical trial in France was pretty good, given the extreme circumstances,” Austriaco wrote.
“Yes, it was a small trial, but if you read the paper, it was rigorous for what it wanted to do, which is to be a pilot study. And it showed that HCQ significantly shortened the time for the patient to clear (the) virus from his or her system.”
Another independent study from a lab in China has shown that HCQ “can prevent viral reproduction in a test tube,” Austriaco added, which is said is hopeful from a microbiology perspective.
In an email to CNA, Fr Austriaco noted that both HCQ and a related drug, CQ, have been used in humans to treat malaria “all over the world, including here in the Philippines.”
“They have also been used to treat autoimmune diseases like lupus. So we know that they are safe for most people,” he said. However, he added, the prescription drugs “should only be taken under the supervision of a physician…because for some people, they can trigger harmful heart conditions.”
While the FDA has approved HCQ for human use for certain diseases, Austriaco noted that it has not yet approved HCQ for use in the treatment of COVID-19, except for in very limited circumstances.
However, “if the ongoing clinical trial by WHO called SOLIDARITY shows that HCQ and CQ are effective in treating COVID-19, then the FDA will approve them for that use,” Austriaco told CNA.
In his blog post, Austriaco noted that he was also hopeful about HCQ because it is “very cheap and readily available: With a prescription, I could walk down the street to a Filipino pharmacy to buy a 200mg pill for PHP85 (which is the equivalent of $1.30). I know that they have it because I checked online. And this is in a random pharmacy in Manila! According to the study, taking three of these pills every day for six days would rid you of SARS-CoV2. And the side-effects for short-term use of HCQ are minimal. This for about $30.”
As for the possibility of a vaccine for coronavirus, Austriaco told CNA that vaccines “usually take 12-18 months to develop though we have accelerated development for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
“(T)he vaccine should hopefully be a one shot deal,” he added, as this coronavirus does not seem to mutate as quickly as the flu does, thus necessitating yearly vaccinations.
In his post, Austriaco wrote that on the whole, he is “optimistic” about the possible use of HCQ to treat coronavirus.
“Yes, there is minimal evidence but that is not unexpected in a pandemic. But the minimal evidence is actually pretty solid, given the practical limits of doing clinical trials in a global crisis,” he said.
“Yet, when both in vitro and in vivo studies converge, that is an optimistic sign. Especially when you have a mechanism of action that is reasonable and is in line with what we know about viral reproduction,” he added. “…I am going to pray that this will bear much fruit!”
“My primary hope is that we are utilizing the global power of human ingenuity and tenacity to fight this pandemic,” he added to CNA. “With God’s grace, we will prevail.”
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