Trump Has a Plan to Fight Coronavirus With a WWII-Era Malaria Drug

But it's not quite ready, according to the FDA.
March 19, 2020, 5:12pm
President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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President Donald Trump is pitching the possibility that two long-used drugs could be used to treat what he calls the “Chinese virus,” or as it’s known to the rest of us, the coronavirus or COVID-19.

Citing the “relentless effort to defeat the Chinese virus,” Trump credited himself and the Food and Drug Administration with “cutting red tape like it’s never been done before” during a press conference at the White House Thursday. He said the government has begun clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine, a malaria drug that’s been in use since 1944.

Trump also said the government is exploring the use of remdesivir, an antiviral drug that’s been successful in the treatment of other coronaviruses. Remdesivir is currently in clinical trials and being delivered to some coronavirus patients when all other options have failed, according to STAT.

“The beauty is that these drugs have been out there,” Trump said. “Especially chloroquine, it’s been out there for years. So we know it’s something that could be taken safely.”

“It's shown very, very encouraging early results, and we’re going to be able to make that drug available immediately,” he said, adding it would be available soon via prescription.

But that’s not quite right, according to FDA administrator Stephen Hahn. He later clarified that the agency is doing a “large, pragmatic clinical trial” to gather information about chloroquine and its effectiveness treating coronavirus before making the drug available to the public.

Right now, little is known about chloroquine’s effectiveness in treating COVID-19, the contagious respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. It’s traditionally been used to treat malaria and rheumatoid arthritis, but has shown “strong antiviral effects” when used in the past as a treatment for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which is in the same coronavirus family as COVID-19.

Hahn, who drew on his experience as an oncologist, stressed that he was hopeful about the actions the administration is taking. “I have great hope we’re gonna come out of this situation. It’s important not to provide false hope, but provide hope,” he said.

During the press conference, Trump also lamented the coronavirus’ effect on the economy. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggested in a meeting with Republican senators earlier this week that a lack of action could cause unemployment to spike to 20%, and the stock market has plummeted in recent weeks, capped by a drop below 20,000 on Wednesday.

“It could have stopped where it came from, in China, if we had known about it,” he added. “The whole world is inflicted with this horrible virus. And it’s too bad, because we never had an economy as good as we had just a few weeks ago.”

He also likened the current crisis to a war. “Our big war is not a financial war, it’s a medical war,” Trump said near the end of his opening remarks. “We have to win it, it’s very important.”

Greg Walters contributed to this report.

Cover image: President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Thursday, March 19, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)