A COVID-19 breakthrough? Expert cautiously optimistic

Posted at 4:01 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 18:58:46-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — At this stage of the world’s fight against COVID-19, we’d all take any piece of good news we can get, no matter how trivial, or unrealistic it may seem. But as it relates to a link between the virus and a decades old drug, it seems as if there’s a strong possibility help could be on the way.

“I think it demonstrates some promise,” said Dr. Frank Romanelli an Associate Dean and Pharmacy Professor at the University of Kentucky.

Reports have surfaced that many COVID-19 patients in Europe were responding well to a drug called, Chloroquine, or Hydrocloroquine. These are anti-viral medications dating to the 1940s, which are used to prevent and treat malaria, and certain arthritic conditions.

There is one problem, however, with issuing prescriptions for those medications as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.

“There haven’t been any randomized clinical trials, which is the gold standard we use to approve a drug to show if they’re definitely going to have efficacy,” Romanelli said.

Because no one is yet certain, it would be utterly disingenuous for a physician to suggest that Chloroquine could cure, or even ease coronavirus symptoms. But because the drug itself has been approved by the FDA (for those above mentioned uses), it can absolutely be prescribed. You just won’t get any assurances with that prescription that it’ll help with COVID-19 symptoms.

“We would refer to that as off-label prescribing. The drugs aren’t currently indicated for that use, so you’re doing off-label prescribing,” said Romanelli.

And he is already seeing that happen.

“As we see reports, that the drugs have some promise, circulate we’re seeing the number of prescriptions for these agents skyrocket,” he said.

Romanelli is hoping they work, and can’t ignore the results, albeit in very limited numbers. He just hopes no one thinks the cure has been discovered.

“…even with that promise, it’s not going to be a cure-all. The agents may slow the virus down, or decrease the number of days you are sick,” he stressed.

As an entire planet grasps at any piece of good news, that might seem about as good as anything.