SWITZERLAND, MARCH 20 – President Trump said in a Thursday press briefing that chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, drugs used to treat malaria and severe arthritis, were approved by the Food and Drug Administration to test as a COVID-19 coronavirus treatment, as the number of cases nationwide continues to increase.
The drugs will be used in a clinical trial, according to FDA commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, who spoke during the press briefing.
Trump also said that other antiviral medications will be fast-tracked for FDA approval.
However, according to Bloomberg, the drug, chloroquine, hasn’t yet been approved for treatment of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. While it’s been available for decades for malaria, it’s not clear whether it will work against the new illness. A March 10 review of existing research found there’s little solid proof one way or the other.
During an at-times-confusing White House press conference, Trump said that chloroquine was approved for use and that he wanted to “remove every barrier” to test more drugs against Covid-19 and “allow many more Americans to access drugs that have shown really good promise.”
“We will collect that data and make the absolute right decisions based upon those data about the safety and efficacy of the treatments,” said Hahn.
Trump also claimed that the White House has “slashed red tape” to speed up approval for vaccines and other treatments.
Trump added that the FDA approved “compassionate use” for a number of patients, which allows very ill patients to use drugs not yet approved by the agency for widespread use.
“Normally the FDA would take a long time to approve something like that, and it’s — it was approved very, very quickly and it’s now approved by prescription,” Trump said.
An FDA spokesperson said the drug hadn’t been approved for use in Covid-19 patients. However, U.S. doctors are legally able to prescribe a drug for any illness or condition they think is medically appropriate.
More than a dozen generic drugmakers, including Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd., Mylan NV and Novartis AG’s Sandoz unit, manufacture chloroquine, also called hydroxychloroquine. It comes with few major known side effects, is relatively inexpensive and is widely used around the world. It’s also been touted by Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk as a potential treatment, and China has been testing it as well.
Mylan said in a statement Thursday it would immediately ramp up manufacturing of hydroxychloroquine pills at its West Virgina facility to meet expected high demand if the medication is shown to be effective against the disease. The generic-drug giant expects to be able to supply the drug by mid-April, ultimately providing 50 million tablets to potentially treat more than 1.5 million patients.