Hydroxychloroquine worsens odds for cancer patients with Covid-19

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As the evidence piles up that a malaria drug touted as a possible coronavirus treatment by President Donald Trump may instead harm patients, a new study shows the same might hold true for cancer patients with Covid-19.

Researchers found that cancer patients with Covid-19 who receive both hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin have a higher risk of death than those who aren't given the two drugs.

Of the 928 patients in the study, 13% died within 30 days of being diagnosed with Covid-19. After adjusting for certain factors, the researchers concluded that patients with progressing cancer were 5.2 times more likely to die within 30 days than those in remission or with no evidence of cancer.

Patients who received the combination of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to treat Covid-19 had a nearly threefold higher risk of death within 30 days than those who didn't receive either drug, the investigators found.

Early and evolving data

Patients who received the two drugs and later died were more likely to: have had slightly reduced daily physical function; have received cancer therapy less than two weeks before being diagnosed with Covid-19; have Rh-positive blood type; be of non-Hispanic ethnicity; and to be taking cholesterol-lowering statins.

The study will be presented virtually at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"This is early and evolving data, and more time and analysis will be needed to confirm and expand on these findings," said lead author Dr Jeremy Warner, an associate professor of medicine and biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

"Right now, we're working to quickly get information about why some patients with cancer become infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus and identify the factors that affect disease severity and death. We're also interested in the effects of treatments that are being used to treat patients with cancer who have Covid-19," Warner said in an ASCO news release.

"While these findings are provocative, we believe that … carefully planned prospective studies are needed to truly demonstrate the risk or benefit of these drugs," Warner added.

Medication has no benefit

Safety concerns over hydroxychloroquine prompted the World Health Organization to remove the drug from a global trial of potential Covid-19 therapies earlier this week.

Several other studies have also found the medication has no benefit and could possibly harm Covid-19 patients.

Still, Trump said on Sunday he had just finished taking a two-week course of the malaria drug to guard against Covid-19 infection after two White House staffers tested positive for the coronavirus.

In the meantime, ASCO president Dr Howard Burris III said more research is needed into the care of cancer patients stricken by Covid-19.

"The cancer care community urgently needs data on the effects of Covid-19, specifically in patients with cancer," he said. "How we improve the care we provide for these patients and reduce the number of deaths and severe consequences associated with this disease are among the top questions."

Image credit: Getty Images

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