A new study of U.S. military veterans who had been hospitalized with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections suggests that hydroxychloroquine is not an effective treatment for COVID-19.

While the study has not been peer-reviewed yet, the results the researchers found for the decades-old malaria drug in coronavirus cases were disappointing, to say the least.

Some caveats 

The data here did not come from a clinical trial in which patients were randomly placed into groups receiving different treatment regimens. Instead, investigators looked back at the clinical outcomes of 368 veterans treated for COVID-19 at various V.A. medical centers through April 11 -- some of whom were given hydroxychloroquine, and some of whom were not.

COVID-19 test sample

Image source: Getty Images.

The coronavirus claimed the lives of 11.4% of patients who weren't treated with hydroxychloroquine. However, that was a much better result than the group of patients treated with the malaria drug: A disturbing 27.8% of patients treated with hydroxychloroquine never made it out of the hospital.

Since the patients being looked at weren't randomized at the outset of a clinical trial -- and because the treatment was unproven -- one might expect that the group given hydroxychloroquine would have a greater preponderance of the most severely affected patients. However, the data on ventilator use suggests this wasn't the case. Among patients treated with hydroxychloroquine, 13.3% required mechanical ventilation compared to 14.1% of patients who weren't given the drug.

More data is coming

Before throwing in the towel on hydroxychloroquine, it's probably best to wait for results from proper clinical trials. One of the world's largest pharmaceutical companiesNovartis (NVS -0.28%) recently received the FDA's go-ahead to begin a 440-patient study in which nobody will know if they're getting a placebo or hydroxychloroquine until all the results are in. 

Novartis will probably have some definitive data to share by the summer. If its study indicates that hydroxychloroquine is effective, the company is prepared to donate millions of free tablets for other researchers to use for additional studies.