Utah hydroxychloroquine study wraps up; researchers find drug 'doesn't help' COVID-19 patients

Utah hydroxychloroquine study wraps up; researchers find drug 'doesn't help' COVID-19 patients

(John Locher, AP Photo, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Count another blow to hydroxychloroquine and its possible use to treat COVID-19.

Researchers at Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health found that the anti-malarial drug resulted in no benefits to COVID-19 patients treated in Utah when compared to an antibiotic drug called azithromycin, which is used to treat bacterial infections.

The study focused on 85 patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 at 13 different hospitals over an 11-week span. Some patients received a five-day treatment of hydroxychloroquine, while others received azithromycin over the same five-day span. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to have worse outcomes, the researchers found.

The results of the study were published Monday in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society. It's the completion of a venture that began in April when hydroxychloroquine was debated as a drug to treat the coronavirus.

"We saw enormous early interest in hydroxychloroquine, but now we can definitively say that it doesn't help COVID-19 patients," Dr. Samuel Brown said in a statement. Brown is the director of the Center for Humanizing Critical Care at Intermountain Healthcare and one of the leading authors of the study.

The results of the study only bolster what medical experts previously determined. For example, the National Institutes of Health stopped its clinical trial of the drug in June because results showed "the study drug was very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalized patients with COVID-19." Brown served as a co-chair of that trial, as well.

Utah researchers intended to study 300 patients for their study but stopped at 85 after the national study came to an end.

The interest in hydroxychloroquine peaked in April, about the same time Intermountain and U. Health researchers started their study. The study began about a week after the state quietly purchased about $800,000 worth of hydroxychloroquine from the Utah vendor Meds in Motion in late March. At that point, it was unclear if the anti-malarial drug provided any benefits to patients.

After the deal came to light and received backlash in April, the vendor agreed to refund the state the $800,000. The ordeal led to a state audit, which was released in September. The audit found there was a lack of preparedness that ultimately led to decisions like buying a large stockpile of hydroxychloroquine, and Utah State Auditor John Dougall told KSL at the time that he believed state officials tried "to do the best they could under difficult circumstances."

There is another side to the Utah study. Brown said it suggests there are possible benefits of azithromycin, which can be studied further. That's already underway in the United Kingdom under a study run by researchers at the University of Oxford.

Of course, the world still awaits a possible vaccine for COVID-19. Drug manufacturer Pfizer announced earlier this week ](https://www.ksl.com/article/50045123/pfizer-biontech-say-their-covid-19-vaccine-is-more-than-90-effective)[thatit believes its vaccine is 90% effective, which is a huge development in the pandemic; however, Utah health officials say it's still too early to know when the vaccine will be available to be widely distributed across the state.

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Carter Williams is an award-winning reporter who covers general news, outdoors, history and sports for KSL.com. He previously worked for the Deseret News. He is a Utah transplant by the way of Rochester, New York.


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