Washington: The US government has approved chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, to treat the deadly novel coronavirus, President Donald Trump said on Thursday.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved compassionate use of certain other drugs, currently under trial, for a significant number of patients, Trump told reporters at a White House press conference, as the coronavirus cases continue to jump significantly in the US.
"We are very excited about chloroquine...if it works. The beauty is that these drugs have been out there," he said, announcing the FDA's approval to expedite the tests of the drug in the treatment of coronavirus.
"We're reviewing drugs that are approved abroad or approved here for other uses," he added.
Chloroquine is a synthetic form of quinine, which is used to treat malaria.
"We're going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately, and that's where the FDA has been so great. They've gone through the approval process. It's been approved. They took it down from many, many months to immediate. So, we're going to be able to make that drug available by prescription," Trump said.
He said chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine has "been around for a long time. So, we know that if things don't go as planned, it's not going to kill anybody".
FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, who was also present in the conference, said chloroquine is already approved for the treatment of malaria as well as an arthritis condition.
"That is a drug that the President has directed us to take a closer look at as to whether an expanded use approach to that could be done to actually see if that benefits patients," he said.
The FDA, he said, is working through different mechanisms to actually get drugs into the hands of providers and patients.
Referring to "compassionate use", Hahn said, "If there is an experimental drug that is potentially available, a doctor could ask for that drug to be used in a patient. We have criteria for that and very speedy approval for that."
The vaccine trial that started early this week is expected to be over in 12 months.
ABC news reported that given chloroquine's effectiveness in treating SARS, scientists have investigated if it will be an effective treatment against the new coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.
So far, the initial trials are encouraging, the news channel said.
"There is evidence that chloroquine is effective when they looked at SARS in vitro with primate cells," Len Horovitz, a pulmonologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, was quoted as saying by the report.
"The theory of the experiment with primate cells was that chloroquine could be for preventing viral infection or as a treatment for viral infection after it had occurred. In vitro in these primate cells, there was evidence that viral particles were significantly reduced when chloroquine was used," he said.