Tests on a drug promoted by US President Donald Trump as an anti-coronavirus medication have been discontinued by both the World Health Organisation (WHO) and American National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The drug, hydroxychloroquine, has been in the spotlight after Trump and other political leaders promoted its efficacy despite earlier research it would not increase a patient’s chance of survival.
\WHO also announced it was also ending a similar trial into a drug called lopinavir-ritonavir, usually prescribed as a combination drug to treat HIV/Aids.
“These interim trial results show that hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir produce little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalised Covid-19 patients when compared to standard of care,” a statement from WHO said.
“Solidarity trial investigators will interrupt the trials with immediate effect.
“For each of the drugs, the interim results do not provide solid evidence of increased mortality. There were, however, some associated safety signals in the clinical laboratory findings.”
The decision only applies to patients in hospital and WHO added it was possible there could be a use for both drugs in patients not in hospital.
The NIH added that hydroxychloroquine, usually used to treat malaria, “was very unlikely to be beneficial to hospitalised patients with Covid-19”.
Hydroxychloroquine came to public attention after President Trump first praised the drug and then later said he had taken a course of it. Brazil's Health Minister also recommended using hydroxychloroquine.
Despite the high-profile support there were concerns over its side effects and the lack of evidence that it was effective.
The WHO’s hydroxychloroquine trials resumed in early June after doubts were raised over the conclusions of previous studies.
The Lancet, a major medical journal, had issued an "expression of concern" over a large-scale study of hydroxychloroquine and another drug, chloroquine, that it published.
An expression of concern is not as severe as a journal withdrawing a published study, but it signifies the research is potentially problematic.
The study looked at records for 96,000 patients and concluded that treatment with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine, an anti-malarial, showed no benefit and even increased the likelihood of patients dying in hospital.