France clamps down on hydroxychloroquine use for COVID-19

Olivier Véran, France’s health minister | Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Move follows publication of a study casting doubt on the drug’s benefit for COVID-19 patients.

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France’s flirtation with hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus fix is coming to an end.

The country’s public health agency advised Tuesday against using hydroxychloroquine outside of clinical trials. Shortly after that, the national medicines regulator suspended its use in clinical trials.

The moves follow the Lancet’s publication on Friday of a large observational study casting doubt on the benefit of hydroxychloroquine and another malaria drug, chloroquine, for COVID-19 patients. It also found an increased risk of heart problems and death.

Health Minister Olivier Véran had asked the National Council for Public Health (HCSP) over the weekend to consider whether he should revise France’s emergency use authorization to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

Furthermore, the drugs regulator ANSM announced Tuesday that new patients should not be enrolled in the 16 clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine currently underway in France.

That echoes the World Health Organization’s announcement Monday that it would temporarily suspend the hydroxychloroquine part of its global Solidarity trial amid a safety review.

Europe’s hype around hydroxychloroquine originated in France, where a small, non-randomized trial in the Marseille clinic of doctor Didier Raoult claimed to have promising results. The U.S. also granted emergency authorization for COVID-19 in March, and U.S. Donald Trump said last week that he’s taking it to prevent the disease.

In a video posted Monday, Raoult stood by his findings.

“How can one messy study done with ‘big data’ change what we see?” he said.



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