An updated timeline on hydroxychloroquine, the controversial potential COVID-19 treatment

Throughout the pandemic, the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine has made frequent appearances in national headlines as the medical community works to establish a cohesive opinion on the drug's effectiveness in treating COVID-19.

Below is a timeline of hydroxychloroquine news as reported by Becker's Hospital Review since April 29.

April 29: A new study showed that internet searches for purchasing hydroxychloroquine jumped 1,389 percent after high-profile claims were made that it could fight COVID-19.

May 5: Rick Bright, PhD, former director of an HHS agency at the center of the government's coronavirus pandemic response, filed a whistleblower complaint claiming he was fired after he resisted a push from HHS officials for widespread hydroxychloroquine use because claims of its benefits lacked "scientific merit." 

May 7: A study became available in the The New England Journal of Medicine showing COVID-19 patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine did not experience lower risk of death compared to coronavirus patients who received other treatments.

May 18: President Donald Trump announced he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure against COVID-19, after the FDA's late April safety warnings that hydroxychloroquine could cause serious heart rhythm problems and should not be taken for COVID-19 outside of clinical trials or hospitals.

May 25: The World Health Organization announced the temporary discontinuation of its global study testing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. The decision came after The Lancet published a study May 22 claiming COVID-19 patients who received hydroxychloroquine experienced a significantly higher risk of dying than those who didn't receive it.

May 27: Anthony Fauci, MD, the nation's top infectious disease physician, reported a lack of confidence in hydroxychloroquine's ability to treat COVID-19 during a CNN interview. "The scientific data is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy for it," Dr. Fauci said.

May 28: Research published in The Lancet showed that cancer patients with COVID-19 who received hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin experienced a risk of death 2.89 times greater within 30 days than those who did not receive the drugs.

June 2: Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, tweeted about the validity of the study the medical journal published May 22 claiming a higher risk of death for patients who received hydroxychloroquine. "Serious questions have been raised about the reliability of the findings reported in this paper," he said.

June 3: The World Health Organization announced the resumption of its international trial analyzing the effectiveness of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 during a news conference held at WHO headquarters in Geneva.

On the same day, the Minneapolis-based University of Minnesota Medical School released a study claiming hydroxychloroquine is no more effective than a vitamin placebo in preventing COVID-19 in individuals who have been exposed to the disease.

June 2: Tucson, Ariz.-based Association of American Physicians and Surgeons sued HHS for preventing physicians from prescribing hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 preventative.

June 4: The Lancet retracted the study it published May 22 that claimed hydroxychloroquine was linked to higher mortality rates in COVID-19 patients. 

On the same day, The New England Journal of Medicine retracted a separate study showing that blood pressure medications were safe to take for COVID-19 patients. Both studies used data from analytics company Surgispher, which refused to share its raw data with study authors or a third-party auditor after questions about its accuracy arose. 

June 5: A U.K.-based, non-peer-reviewed study showed no significant difference in the death rate at 28 days between COVID-19 patients who received the drug and those who did not.

On the same day, Salt Lake City-based University of Utah terminated its faculty appointment of Amit Patel, MD, who co-authored the two medical papers on hydroxychloroquine that had been recently retracted by The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine.

June 15: The FDA wrote a letter to withdraw its emergency use authorizations for hydroxychloroquine and related drug chloroquine.

June 17: WHO announced it had pulled hydroxychloroquine from its global study assessing possible treatments for COVID-19.

June 19: Novartis announced that it discontinued its hydroxychloroquine trial, as the drugmaker was unable to collect meaningful data in a reasonable time frame to determine the effectiveness of the drug in treating COVID-19 patients due to slow enrollment.

June 20: The National Institutes of Health stopped its hydroxychloroquine trial that was taking place at the Nashville, Tenn.-based Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

July 2: The International Journal of Infectious Diseases published a study conducted by researchers at Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System that claimed COVID-19 patients who received a small dose of hydroxychloroquine within the first two days of their hospital stay were more likely to survive.

July 8: STAT published an article highlighting the viewpoint of many clinical experts quick to point out the flaws in Henry Ford Health System's study.

July 29: Vizient's July 2020 Drug Price Forecast revealed that hydroxychloroquine saw a 1,132 percent increase in spend during March and April.

On the same day, Ohio's board of pharmacy prohibited pharmacists from dispensing or selling hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19.

July 30: After a request from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, the state's board of pharmacy reversed its ban on hydroxychloroquine for use in COVID-19 patients and said it will reexamine the issue.

Aug. 3: Two Henry Ford Health System executives wrote in an open letter that the persisting political climate has made any objective discussion about hydroxychloroquine "impossible."

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