SAO PAULO, March 25 (Reuters) - Initial results from a Brazilian clinical trial of a malaria drug and antibiotic combination to treat coronavirus could come within two weeks, a lead doctor said on Wednesday, but urged caution about the drug U.S. President Donald Trump called a potential “game changer.”
The trial of hydroxychloroquine, which is being led by the Albert Einstein Hospital in Sao Paulo in conjunction with other Brazilian hospitals, began on Monday and is testing the effectiveness of the drug in combination with the antibiotic azithromycin on patients with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by coronavirus.
Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro have promoted hydroxychloroquine and the related chloroquine as potential treatments for coronavirus infections as they try to assuage concerns over the virus and shield their economies from the fallout.
There are no vaccines or approved treatments so even the most ill patients largely receive only supportive care such as breathing assistance.
Doctors are encouraged by anecdotal reports that the combination of the two drugs is effective. Hydroxychloroquine is both an anti-malarial and an anti-inflammatory used to treat auto-immune disorders. Other trials are looking at hydroxychloroquine on its own, while the World Health Organization is coordinating a global study into chloroquine.
“For now it’s just wishful thinking, as much for (Bolsonaro) as for Trump,” Luiz Vicente Rizzo, a doctor at the Albert Einstein Hospital, said in an interview.
“In a few weeks, with a bit of luck, we’ll be able to say, first if it works, then for whom it works and under what conditions,” he said. “I’m rooting for it to work, me and everyone else.”
Rizzo’s timeline appears to contradict Bolsonaro who tweeted on Wednesday that results could be released in the coming days.
“The treatment ... has been shown to be effective in patients now being treated. In the coming days, these results can be presented to the public, bringing the necessary atmosphere of tranquility and serenity to Brazil and the world,” he said.
Trump was criticized by some scientists for throwing his support behind a still unproven use of the drug. A senior doctor on his own White House coronavirus task force, Anthony Fauci, said that while Trump had a “feeling” it would be effective, more data was needed.
The dangers of such promotion became clear earlier this week when a man in Arizona died after ingesting chloroquine phosphate - an aquarium cleaning product similar to the drugs named by Trump. (Reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)