The European Medicines Agency on Thursday added its voice to growing concern about an anti-malarial drug widely touted as a potential cure for the Covid-19 disease, warning about fatal side effects.
Beneficial effects of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which count US President Donald Trump as a major backer, have “not yet been demonstrated,” the Amsterdam-based EMA said.
“Recent studies have reported serious, in some cases fatal, heart rhythm problems with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, particularly when taken at high doses or in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin,” the EMA said in a statement.
They could also cause liver and kidney problems, nerve cell damage that can lead to seizures, and low blood sugar, it said.
The agency added that the data from clinical trials of the drugs was “still very limited and inconclusive, and the beneficial effects of these medicines in Covid-19 have not been demonstrated.”
On Tuesday the results of the largest study yet, funded by the US government, showed no benefit against the disease over standard care – instead showing use of hydroxychloroquine was associated with more deaths.
Since mid-March Trump, backed by the conservative Fox News channel, has advocated for the use of chloroquine to treat Covid-19 infections, with scant evidence from studies of its safety or effectiveness.
Despite his own science advisors suggesting more study is needed, Trump repeatedly pushed for the drugs’ use, claiming the treatment could be a “gift from God” to counter the coronavirus pandemic.
Calls for the use of chloroquine have also been growing in France following a controversial proposal by Marseille-based medical professor Didier Raoult that chloroquine can beat the coronavirus which has now killed more than 183,707 people, according to an AFP tally.