Preliminary New York data: Results "inconclusive" on whether hydroxychloroquine works against coronavirus

It’s been a bad week for miracle cures. First remdesivir goes bust, then they tell us we can’t inject ourselves with Lysol.

Now this.

At least China’s experimental vaccine seems to be working on monkeys. I’ll sleep easier tonight knowing that monkeys are now safe from COVID-19.

The new New York data on hydroxychloroquine comes from “observational trials” overseen by the state Department of Health. I wrote about them a month ago. Because HCQ is already being dosed out to so many hospitalized COVID patients in New York, the DOH decided to track the results from patient to patient to try to get an inkling of whether the drug is effective or not. Full results involving 1,200 patients will be released next week but partial results for 600 patients across 22 NY hospitals are already available. Early verdict: There’s no sign that it works.

Those who took hydroxychloroquine, with or without the antibiotic azithromycin, were no more likely to survive their infections than those who did not, according to David Holtgrave, dean of the University at Albany School of Public Health, who conducted the study. The results have not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

“We don’t see a statistically significant difference between patients who took the drugs and those who did not,” he said…

Since the patients who took the drugs were more ill to start with, they did have higher rates of death and heart complications. However, once the researchers did a statistical adjustment, they found no statistically significant difference in the death or complication rates between the patients who took the drugs and those that didn’t.

Because it’s an observational trial, one potential problem with the data is that “doctors were more likely to prescribe the drugs to patients who were already very sick.” It stands to reason that as patients turn desperate, physicians would be more likely to reach for the closest thing they have to miracle cure and see how it works. Maybe hydroxychloroquine will be more effective administered earlier in the course of the disease, before the person being treated is too far gone. Another problem is that, because doctors participating in the trial aren’t following a common protocol, there’s no way to know why one might have prescribed the drug for one patient while another declined to prescribe it for a patient in a similar condition. “You never know what the biases were that persuaded physicians to use the drug in some patients rather than others and these biases often cannot be measured,” said one expert to CNN.

Soon we’ll not only have more data, we’ll have better data. There are lots — lots — of HCQ clinical trials in motion thanks to the public hype about the drug, amplified by the president.

Researchers studying the drugs have drawn up plans to enroll about 200,000 people to test whether the drugs could be used to prevent infections or help the sick get over them. More than 100 studies are under way, according to the analysis, which reviewed the U.S. government’s registry of trials and interviewed researchers…

Some doctors who have been giving the drugs to Covid-19 patients swear by their benefits, and say patients can’t wait weeks or months for rigorous studies to read out.

“I don’t need anything else to convince me,” said Joseph Brewer, an infectious-disease specialist at St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., who says most of the four-dozen moderate and severe patients he treated with the drugs have improved. “I’ve seen people get better in one to two days.”

I’m tempted to say that we shouldn’t invest so many resources in testing an unproven drug that most experts seem bearish on, but it’s not like there are many other drugs out there with multiple anecdotal reports of good results. What are we supposed to run clinical trials on instead? Clorox?

There was some good news from the study: There’s no evidence that patients who received HCQ were more likely to develop heart issues, a well-known side effect of the medicine.

Here’s Cavuto going off on Trump today at length for touting treatments like hydroxychloroquine that *may* be harmful and treatments like, er, disinfectant that definitely are harmful. Contra the president’s claims that he was being sarcastic about that, his own aides reportedly took him seriously. “It was totally ad-libbed,” said one administration official to NBC, adding, it was “off-the-cuff.” No fooling? Another said White House aides began texting each other after he said it, wondering where he’d come up with such an idea and recognizing from a PR standpoint that “this is going to be bad.”