Trials of drugs to prevent coronavirus infection begin in health care workers

8 Apr, 2020

White and his colleagues at the Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit wondered whether widely available drugs could help protect the doctors and nurses from coronavirus disease. They have designed a trial in which 40,000 doctors and nurses in Asia, Africa, and Europe will prophylactically receive chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine, two old drugs against malaria. White hopes the trial will start this month, but its launch has been “incredibly difficult because of bureaucratic processes,” he says

The international study is one of several in preparation or underway that seek to use drugs for what is called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a strategy already widely used against HIV. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding plans for another huge study that will test the same two drugs in Africa, North America, and Europe. Separate studies of the same drugs are planned or underway in the United States, Australia, Canada, Spain, and Mexico. Researchers are also considering other potential preventives, including nitazoxanide, a drug used to treat parasitic infections, and the antibody-laden serum from people who have recovered from an infection.

“If there was a drug that could prevent infections and that health care workers could take, that would be an enormous public health benefit,” says Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome Trust, which is funding White’s effort.

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