Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Novartis to Test Hydroxychloroquine as Possible Coronavirus Treatment

By Cory Renauer – Apr 20, 2020 at 11:51AM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

The FDA has approved the pharma giant's plan for a large phase 3 study of the malaria treatment against COVID-19.

Over the weekend, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, Novartis (NVS 2.04%) reached an agreement with U.S. regulators to begin treating hospitalized coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine. The company will run a 440-patient study to see if the decades-old antimalarial drug can add COVID-19 to its list of non-malarial indications. 

Several academic institutions and the National Institutes of Health have already begun studies of hydroxychloroquine, a synthetic analog of quinine that has shown some evidence of efficacy against COVID-19. But Novartis, whose generic drug segment, Sandoz, produces hydroxychloroquine, will become the first big pharma to treat coronavirus patients with the drug in a phase 3 clinical trial.

Physician in an intensive care unit with a clipboard.

Image source: Getty Images.

Patients in the Novartis trial will either receive hydroxychloroquine or  a placebo. If its study produces positive results, the company will also support the global development of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment by providing other researchers up to 130 million free tablets for use in their own clinical trials.

Temper your expectations

Hydroxychloroquine and other quinine derivatives were originally found to be useful as treatments for malaria, which is caused by a parasite, but in recent years, researchers have uncovered new uses for them. Today, quinine-based treatments are also used to manage some autoimmune diseases and in the treatment of cancer.

Unfortunately, hydroxychloroquine probably isn't the magic bullet for COVID-19 that the world is searching for. Malaria is caused by a plasmodium parasite that breeds in the bloodstream, not a virus that flourishes in the respiratory system. While hydroxychloroquine and other quinine analogs have shown some broad-spectrum antiviral activity, they probably do more to reduce the risk of secondary infections for COVID-19 patients than to directly inhibit SARS-CoV-2 from reproducing.

Cory Renauer has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Stocks Mentioned

Novartis AG Stock Quote
Novartis AG
$78.23 (2.04%) $1.56

*Average returns of all recommendations since inception. Cost basis and return based on previous market day close.

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 10/04/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.