Two local health systems are seeking COVID-19 patients to test the effectiveness of two drugs in treating the virus

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This Monday, April 6, 2020, photo shows an arrangement of Hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas. President Donald Trump and his administration are keeping up their out-sized promotion of the anti-malaria drug not yet officially approved for fighting the new coronavirus, but scientists say more testing is needed before it’s proven safe and effective against COVID-19. (AP Photo/John Locher)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) — Researchers from both Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health have launched two clinical trials to test if hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin can safely treat patients with COVID-19.

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“Although some providers will choose to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to their patients, Intermountain Healthcare, University of Utah Health, the Utah Department of Health, and the UMA recognize the safest way to use this medication to treat COVID-19 is within the framework of clinical trials,” said Raj Srivastava, MD, a principal investigator of the outpatient trial and assistant vice president of research at Intermountain Healthcare. 

Researchers from both health systems are currently searching for roughly 2,300 patients who tested positive for COVID-19 to participate in the trials.

Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug typically used to treat some autoimmune diseases. Azithromycin is an antibiotic typically used to treat sinusitis or pneumonia. Both drugs have been suggested as potential treatments for COVID-19, but whether they are actually effective is unknown.

Both drugs can have significant side effects, and the researchers said that anyone looking to participate in the trials should discuss the pros and cons of taking the drugs with their healthcare provider first.

“Because COVID-19 is a new disease, we’re all starting from scratch,” said Adam M. Spivak, MD, a principal investigator of one of the clinical trials and an infectious disease physician at University of Utah Health. “The only way to answer the key question of ‘does this drug work?’ is to perform an unbiased clinical trial where we study its effects.”

In the first trial, patients who are hospitalized for wither suspected or confirmed COVID-19 will be given either hydroxychloroquine or azithromycin to test whether either drug can help lower the severity of COVID-19.

Researchers hope to enroll 300 patients in the clinical trial from across all Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and University of Utah Health hospitals where these patients are being treated.

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The second set of trials will test whether the drugs can prevent hospitalization in patients with confirmed COVID-19 who are being treated at home. The trials will also determine whether hydroxychloroquine has any effect on viral shedding and if the drug is any more effective than a placebo in preventing infection in other household members.

Researchers will enroll 2,000 patients across Utah from all Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health System hospitals that are treating COVID-19 patients. Patients participating in the trials will receive treatment and be monitored daily.

According to Dr. Samuel Brown, principal investigator of one of the studies and a critical care researcher at Intermountain Healthcare, it’s okay if it takes some time to gather enough COVID-19 patients for this study because that would mean that Utah is doing its part to flatten the curve.

Researchers conducting these trials said that the medical community has years of experience with these drugs and have multiple levels of safety monitoring in place to protect participants.

“We believe these trials will ensure patients are provided information about potential associated risks and have consented to participate so their progress can be closely monitored by healthcare providers and research staff,” added Rachel Hess, MD, MS, a principal investigator of the outpatient trial and co-director for the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Utah.

Click here for more information on the research.

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