South Dakota hydroxychloroquine trials could speed up research on drug

FARGO — South Dakota has announced it is launching a Sanford Health-led statewide clinical trial for hydroxychloroquine, a drug that is being eyed as a possible treatment COVID-19, the illness caused by coronavirus.

While it is too early to be certain that the drug will work, the first-in-the-nation study could help health care providers learn more about the drug at a faster pace.

"Usually this process takes months on end or maybe even years," said Dr. Avish Nagpal, an infectious disease expert with Sanford Health in Fargo. "The pandemic has forced us to increase our efficiency."

Variations of hydroxychloroquine, or HCQ, have been used worldwide for years to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers have found it has anti-viral properties, but so far only in laboratory settings.

The drug has been used at Sanford hospitals in Fargo and Minnesota already, though currently there is not enough data to reach any conclusions about its use in treating COVID-19. About 2,000 people exposed to coronavirus are expected to take part in the South Dakota trial.


"Whether or not it works in humans remains to be determined, but now is the time to do it," Nagpal said. "We want to do these trials, we want to be meticulous, but at the same time, we're fighting a virus here, and we're on the clock."

While it's unlikely HCQ will cure COVID-19, Nagpal said there is a chance the drug could still be useful in the fight against the disease.

"Even if it reduces your risk of getting on a ventilator, risk of dying or even if it reduces the number of days you can spread the virus to another person, it's still a tool in the arsenal," he said.

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