A French microbiologist, known for some controversy, has come out with some bold declarations about chloroquine and its efficacy against SARS-CoV-2. The head of infectious diseases at Marseille’s La Timone hospital, Didier Raoult has declared that the anti-malarial drug is working against the novel coronavirus. TrialSite News has reported on other similar observations around the world. Of course, these are at this observational point data points and not conclusive evidence, reports several other scientists and critics of Dr. Raoult. The primary scientific establishment will not accept these claims unless they are the proven result of random controlled studies. Dr. Raoult has a proponent, though—U.S. President Donald Trump.
An Observational Study
According to Dr. Raoult, the drug has been working during a study of 80 patients where four out of five patients treated evidence ”favorable” results reports the publication France24. Yes, another earlier claim by Dr. Raoult was that 24 patients on hydroxychloroquine coupled with the antibiotic azithromycin produced considerable results: the virus went away in 75% of the patients. However, this research hasn’t been peer reviewed and isn’t part of any random controlled trials.
Described as a “colorful” character with long blond, rocker hair and a long beard, this 68-year-old brilliant researcher or “mad scientist” also points to the east in China where he aligns with pulmonary expert Zhong Nanshan who discussed similar observations in China. Various groups have gone on the attack against Dr. Raoult such as Fakemed, a group of scientists standing against fake news in health.
The controversial French scientist likes to release findings on the internet much to the concern of peers who seek established protocol of rigorous peer review stage gates—something the unconventional and unorthodox Frenchman doesn’t fret over.
The Critics Line Up
So the latest critic, Professor Francois Balloux, University College, London, talked down the news on Twitter noting, “No, (this is) not ‘huge’ I’m afraid.” He had to remind others that “This is an observational study (i.e. not controlled) following 80 patients with fairly mild symptoms. The majority of patients recover from #COVID19 infection, with or without #Hchloroquine and #Azithromycin treatment.”
While Tim Morris, a statistician with the university clinical trials group complained, “If hydroxychloroquine turns out to be useful,” he tweeted, “it’s a shame that this group will be praised as heroes and prophets instead of held to account for the misinformation and self-promotion they’ve been churning out at a critical time.”
Anecdotal at this Point
The reality is that the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine against SARS-CoV-2 is anecdotal at this point. Yes, TrialSite News has reported on cases where various teams have reported some positive results but many if not most are purely observational studies. And there can be trouble with rushing to conclusion. When Trump referred to this drug as a potential “game changer,” there was a rush in the U.S. market leaving many that need the drug (people with lupus for example) without their medicine due to shortages. Moreover, according to CNN, a person in the U.S. died after self-medicating with a non-prescription version of the drug used for cleaning fish tanks.
There can’t be claims that the drug is effective until it has gone through appropriately designed clinical trials.
Didier Raoult, MD, head of infectious diseases at Marseille’s La Timone hospital
Call to Action: Observational studies can be important but are not conclusive. Only with randomized controlled trials can hydroxychloroquine be considered definitely efficacious against SARS-CoV-2. TrialSite News will continue to monitor both observational and random controlled trials to update our readers on the research associated with this unfolding pandemic. Sign up for the newsletter for daily updates.