Chloroquine study called off after irregular heartbeats detected in patients

Researchers called off a small Brazilian study on the anti-malaria drug chloroquine’s ability to combat coronavirus after some participants experienced potentially fatal heart complications.

The study, which was funded by the Brazilian state of Amazonas, administered the drug to 81 hospitalized patients in Manaus to determine its effectiveness battling coronavirus, according to a report on pre-publication server medRix.

But researchers said they were forced to halt the study early after “potential safety hazards” became apparent.

“Preliminary findings suggest that the higher [chloroquine] dosage (10-day regimen) should not be recommended for COVID-19 treatment because of its potential safety hazards,” researchers wrote. “Such results forced us to prematurely halt patient recruitment to this arm.”

Roughly half of the patients in the study took a 50-milligram dose of chloroquine twice-daily for five days, the report said. The other participants, meanwhile, were given a single, 600-milligram dose daily for 10 days.

But within three days, some of the patients taking the higher doses experienced arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeats, the report said. By the sixth day, 11 patients had died, though it was unclear if that was from coronavirus or complications related to the chloroquine.

The scientists said that “the trend towards higher fatality associated with the higher dose by day 6 of follow-up resulted in a premature halting” of administering higher doses to patients.

“To me, this study conveys one useful piece of information, which is that chloroquine causes a dose-dependent increase in an abnormality in the ECG (Electrocardiography) that could predispose people to sudden cardiac death,” Dr. David Juurlink, the head of the division of clinical pharmacology at the University of Toronto, Canada, told the New York Times.

Chloroquine has been eyed as a possible miracle treatment after President Trump has touted hydroxychloroquine, which is similar to the drug, as a “one of the biggest game changers” to stop the coronavirus pandemic.

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