Swiss drug giant Novartis is ending its trial of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19 after failing to find enough participants, it said on Friday.
Basel-based Novartis began the clinical trial in April. Some 440 hospitalised patients with the virus were expected to participate in the study.
But the pharma company said on June 19 that it had decided to halt the trial due to “acute enrolment challenges that have made trial completion infeasible”.
Novartis’ move follows this week’s US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision to revoke emergency use authorisation for hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19 on grounds it and a related drug, chloroquine, are unlikely to help patients.
Hydroxychloroquine, also used to treat inflammatory disorders including rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, has been caught in a political debate as US President Donald Trump promoted it, even though there was no scientific evidence that it helps against the new coronavirus.
Several studies of the decades-old malaria drug including in Britain were recently halted after scientists concluded it was “useless” against COVID-19. Last week the World Health Organization halted the hydroxychloroquine arm of one of its trials.
“The recruitment challenge facing our hydroxychloroquine trial has made it unlikely that the clinical team will be able to collect meaningful data in a reasonable time frame to determine the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine in treating patients with COVID-19,” Novartis said.
The pharmaceutical company said its study, so far, raised no safety issues and drew no conclusions about hydroxychloroquine’s efficacy.
Novartis had donated up to 130 million doses of hydroxychloroquine, including millions in the United States, and Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan two months ago claimed the drug was the company’s biggest hope against the new coronavirus.