March 25, 2020 / 2:56 PM / 8 days ago

Pharmacies set policies to stop U.S. hoarding of potential coronavirus treatments

(Reuters) - CVS Health Corp and Express Scripts, which set pharmacy policies for tens of millions of Americans, are putting in place measures to prevent hoarding of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine and other treatments being tried against the new coronavirus.

Walgreens Boots Alliance has placed limits on prescriptions of hydroxychloroquine and the related malaria treatment chloroquine.

U.S. President Donald Trump last week touted the malaria drugs, which have been tried with some success against the illness caused by the new coronavirus. That led to a spike in demand amid the fast-spreading outbreak that has infected some 60,000 people in the United States, according to pharmacists.

Top U.S. infectious disease official and coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci said last week it is too soon to embrace the old, generic drugs as a treatment, saying the therapy must be tested to assure its safety and efficacy in these patients.

The drugs are being embraced because there are no approved vaccines or treatments against the highly contagious respiratory illness called COVID-19.

Both CVS and Express Scripts, which is part of Cigna Corp, said they are setting limits on hydroxychloroquine, antibiotic azithromycin, a type of anti-viral called a protease inhibitor and albuterol inhalers.

The move aims to enable patients with chronic conditions to access their treatments. Hydroxychloroquine, for instance, is a treatment for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis in addition to malaria, while albuterol is used to manage asthma.

Walgreens now has a 14-day limit for new prescriptions, a 30-day supply limit for refills, and a reduction in 90-day prescriptions to 30 days, spokeswoman Kelli Teno said in a statement.

CVS said it would work with clients, which include employers and health insurers, to set an appropriate limit on the drug for potential use in patients with COVID-19.

Express Scripts spokeswoman Jennifer Luddy said in a statement that the limits are in line with board of pharmacy and other state regulations.

FILE PHOTO: A logo of CVS Health is displayed on a monitor above the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

“We are seeing a surge in demand for these potential therapies, and are talking with manufacturers regularly about production,” Luddy said.

Because the treatment is not widely used, supply of the drug is normally limited. Last week, four makers of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine pills, including Novartis, Mylan NV, Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries Ltd <Teva TA> and Bayer AG, said they would increase production and donate millions of doses in the United States and elsewhere.

Separately, India on Wednesday banned export of hydroxychloroquine and other formulations of the malaria drug while it is being tested for an illness that has sickened about 459,000 people worldwide.

Reporting by Manas Mishra in Bengaluru and Caroline Humer in New York, Editing by Paul Simao and Bill Berkrot

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