SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – In a new study, Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health have found that hydroxychloroquine provides no benefit to COVID-19 patients when compared to azithromycin, an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists raced to find potential treatments for the deadly virus. One of the early options was hydroxychloroquine – an anti-malarial drug. President Trump was at one time even taking the drug.

The trial, which was run in parallel with a National Institutes of Health trial comparing hydroxychloroquine to a placebo, was stopped early given the overwhelming evidence of its ineffectiveness in treating the disease.   

“We saw enormous early interest in hydroxychloroquine, but now we can definitively say that it doesn’t help COVID-19 patients,” said Samuel M. Brown, MD, MS, principal investigator of the trial and director of the Center for Humanizing Critical Care at Intermountain Healthcare.    

Dr. Brown, specializes in critical care medicine at Intermountain and is also co-chair of the ORCHID trial, a National Institutes of Health nationwide study that also found no benefit to treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine.

As part of the study, 85 patients with COVID-19 from 13 Intermountain Healthcare hospitals and the University of Utah Hospital were selected to participate in the study over an 11-week span. Patients were randomized into two groups: one group was given a five-day treatment of hydroxychloroquine; the other was given a five-day treatment of azithromycin.   

Researchers found that outcomes for COVID-19 patients may have been worse in those given hydroxychloroquine than those treated with azithromycin. When the trial found no benefit or harm of hydroxychloroquine in patients, researchers shut down their trial short of their original goal of enrolling 300 patients.

“When we interpreted our findings in the context of the national trial, we felt like our study had done what it needed to do. It had protected our patients from plan to distribute hydroxychloroquine without informed consent or careful safety protocols. And it contributed to our knowledge about what works and what doesn’t. When we acknowledge that the trials with limited safety protocols suggested that hydroxychloroquine was harmful and the trials that used careful safety protocols suggested neither harm nor benefit, it seems likely to us that providing this clinical trial to Utahans on balance protected their health,” Dr. Brown said.   

The research did however find enough evidence to suggest a positive benefit of giving patients azithromycin. Further study is happening on that drug in the United Kingdom currently. However, Dr. Brown says that it is too early to start the widespread use of the drug outside of clinical trials.

You can read the complete study here.