Anti-malaria drug touted as COVID-19 'game changer' already in short supply

The anti-malaria drug that President Donald Trump has touted as a potential treatment for COVID-19 is already in shortage after demand skyrocketed in recent weeks, according to Business Insider

Chloroquine was originally approved in 1949 to treat malaria, but it is now also used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. The drug, along with a safer, more commonly used version of it called hydroxychloroquine, has shown to be somewhat effective in treating symptoms of COVID-19 in preliminary trials. 

But there is no peer-reviewed clinical data showing the drugs work against COVID-19, Business Insider reported. 

Despite that limitation, President Trump has touted the drugs as “game changers” in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. 

Rheumatologists, patients and providers focused on lupus and arthritis are "very concerned" about potential shortages, Karen Costenbader, MD, the director of the lupus program at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston told Business Insider. 

Chloroquine has been in shortage since March 9, according to the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Hydroxychloroquine, which is sold under the brand name Plaquenil, went into shortage March 19, the same day the president held a news briefing saying the government would make the drug available “almost immediately” to treat COVID-19.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals said it will work to increase production of the drugs, and Mylan said it would restart hydroxychloroquine production at one of its plants in West Virginia, according to Business Insider. Teva Pharmaceutical also said it will donate more than 10 million tablets of hydroxychloroquine to hospitals within a month. 

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