Healthcare workers at British hospitals will be the first participants in a global study testing the anti-malarial drugs chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine to see if they can be used to treat or prevent COVID-19.
The University of Oxford-led study, kicking off Thursday, will test over 40,0000 frontline health workers in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, testing at 25 sites in Britain alone, according to Reuters. All healthcare workers who have not contracted COVID-19 are eligible to participate in the “COPCOV” study.
Workers in Britain will be administered either hydroxychloroquine or a placebo for three months, while in Asia, participants will be given chloroquine or a placebo.
Interest in the drug intensified after President Donald Trump began lauding its usefulness at news conferences in April. Earlier this week Trump announced that he was taking hydroxychloroquine as prophylactic against COVID-19.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug for limited hospital use to treat COVID-19 patients, it does not approve of non-clinical use “due to risk of heart rhythm problems,” a statement from the organization read.
While laboratory evidence demonstrates hope for the drug, the results are inconclusive, prompting the creation of the international, double-blind study.
“We really do not know if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are beneficial or harmful against COVID-19,” said Nicholas White, a University of Oxford professor and the study’s co-principal investigator.
Interest in a preventative treatment is rising as the hunt for a vaccine continues.
Martin Llewelyn is professor at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School and is leading the study with White.
"A widely available, safe and effective vaccine may be a long way off,” Llewelyn said. "If drugs as well-tolerated as chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine could reduce the chances of catching Covid-19, this would be incredibly valuable.”