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France requests revision of controversial virus drug

France has demanded a revision of the rules for prescribing controversial Covid-19 treatment hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), after a study was published suggesting that the drug is ineffective.

French minister for health Olivier Véran this weekend (Saturday May 23) has requested that medical authority Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique (HCSP) present “within 48 hours, a revision of the rules that allow exceptional prescription”.

The request comes after a new study, published on Friday May 22 in medical journal The Lancet, suggested that HCQ was ineffective against Covid-19, and could even present additional risks to patients.

The study, on 96,000 patients, concluded that neither chloroquine nor HCQ were effective against Covid-19 in hospitalised patients, and that the drugs could even increase the risk of death and cardiac arrhythmia.

It said: "Although generally safe when used for approved indications such as autoimmune disease or malaria, the safety and benefit of these treatment regimens are poorly evaluated in COVID-19...We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine."

In a Tweet, Mr Véran said: “Following the publication, in The Lancet, of a study warning of the ineffectiveness and risks of certain treatments for Covid-19 - including hydroxychloroquine - I have asked the HCSP to analyse it, and give me, within 48 hours, a revision of the rules that allow exceptional prescription.”

France has so far approved the drug for use in clinical trials, but has otherwise restricted its use to hospitals only, and only for very severe cases of Covid-19.

In early April, a petition was launched by former health minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, and infectious diseases specialist Professor Christian Perronne, calling for the relaxation of rules on prescribing chloroquine.

Read more: Limited chloroquine use against Covid-19 approved

Drug controversy

The drug HCQ, derived from the anti-malarial drug chloroquine, has proven controversial in recent months.

It gained notoriety after high-profile-yet-controversial infectious diseases specialist, Professor Didier Raoult - from the Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire (IHU) Méditerranée Infection in Marseille (Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) - undertook early clinical trials and said that using chloroquine phosphate appeared to be effective in treating patients with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Professor Raoult was later termed “a great scientist” by President Emmanuel Macron. Professor Raoult has since controversially suggested that “the epidemic is ending”.

Read more: Epidemic ending, says controversial ‘cure’ medic

Read more: President Macron visits 'chloroquine-treatment' doctor

Read more: Macron dubs French chloroquine medic ‘great scientist’

Yet, the effectiveness of HCQ itself remains contested.

Last week, two studies were published - one Chinese and one French - that suggested that HCQ does not significantly reduce the risk of being admitted to intensive care with the virus, nor does it decrease the risk of death from Covid-19-related pneumonia among hospitalised patients.

Related stories

Covid-19 France: petition for wider chloroquine access

France widens Covid-19 drug tests amid vaccine search

French lab offers ‘millions of doses’ of Covid-19 drug

Marseille professor seeking to cure Covid-19

Doctors support testing of another Covid-19 drug

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