An old arthritis drug of € 6.75 proves to be effective against coronavirus

Little good news They have left China in recent days. At this time, the epidemic that began in the Wuhan market at the end of December has already spread to 32 countries, has infected almost 80,000 people and has killed 2,627 of them, mostly in the region of Hubei

Half-world scientists are on the run to find a way to combat this new threat, but achieving an effective vaccine against Covid-19 will take time. Therefore, Chinese researchers have been testing different compounds for weeks – already existing and available at any pharmacy– to see if anyone manages to combat or, at least, protect patients from pneumonia, which is what ultimately causes death.

A few days ago, Jianjun Gao, Zhenxue Tian and Xu Yang, pharmacists at Qingdao University Hospital, presented a study that points to an old drug, the chloroquine – also known as chloroquine phosphate – as a seemingly effective remedy to stop infection with this new coronavirus.

"In the first 'in vitro' studies, chloroquine was found to block Covid-19 infection at very low concentrations," they explain in this paper, published in the journal 'BioScience Trends'. To date, the drug has been applied to more than 100 patients in more than 10 hospitals in Wuhan, Jingzhou, Guangzhou, Beijing or Shanghai, proving to be better than conventional treatments.

"The results […] have shown that the chloroquine phosphate is superior to control treatments, by inhibiting the exacerbation of pneumonia, improving lung imaging results, promoting a negative conversion of the virus and shorten the course of the disease", the researchers explain.

The results are promising, given the availability of the drug. Years ago, chloroquine was the reference treatment against malaria, until this parasite became resistant in many areas of the world. Due to its antiviral and anti-inflammatory characteristics, it is also commonly used against other diseases such as lupus erythematosus wave rheumatoid arthritis.

In Spain, for example, there are four different drugs with chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine as the active substance. Evidently, require a prescription, but it is possible to find them in pharmacies at approximately € 6.75 per box.

On October 17, the Chinese State Council announced that chloroquine had proven effective and safe, so I would suggest its inclusion in the next version of the 'Guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia caused by Covid-19', prepared by the National Health Commission of the People's Republic of China.