Researchers at the University of Florida College of Pharmacy have studied the safety of the antimalarial drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, as well as the antibiotic azithromycin, which are being studied as potential COVID-19 treatments.
Azithromycin and antimalarial drugs first sparked interest as possible treatments when a small clinical study in France reported promising results with the drugs. However, experts warned about safety concerns surrounding the use of these drugs, particularly regarding the potential for them to cause abnormal heart rhythms.
To complete this study, researchers analyzed 13.3 million reports from the Food and Drug Administration's Adverse Event Reporting System. They determined that the antimalarial drugs were not associated with a risk of abnormal heart rhythm on their own or when prescribed in conjunction with azithromycin. Azithromycin by itself, however, was associated with the risk of abnormal heart rhythm.
"What also needs to be considered is that the existing data, our study included, are based in patients using the medications to manage chronic disease like rheumatoid arthritis or to treat minor upper respiratory infections," Joshua Brown, Pharm.D., Ph.D. from the University of Florida College of Pharmacy said in a press release about the study. "The risk profile could be much higher in patients with severe COVID-19 who are critically ill or have comorbid conditions and may be using these medications at a higher than normal dose."
Researchers point out that their study focuses on safety and does not determine whether these medications will be effective in treating COVID-19. Further drug studies in COVID-19 positive patients are required.