Researchers at KU Leuven in Belgium have discovered that an existing malaria drug works against COVID-19, the disease caused by the 2019-nCoV corona virus. This appears from tests that doctors have conducted in China.
This concerns the chloroquine medicine, which has been on the market since 1934. The Belgian professor Marc Van Ranst already discovered in 2004 that the medicine worked against SARS, which is also a corona virus. He then wondered if the drug would work against COVID-19.
In ten hospitals in Beijing, Hunan and Guangdong, chloroquine has recently been tested on patients with COVID-19. Experts from the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology had good news for Van Ranst on Monday: the drug worked.
Patients in China who were given chloroquine for a week showed less fever, improved lung function, and were sooner virus-free and cured, the KU said. Until now, doctors could only fight the symptoms of the virus.
The medicine can be used until a coronavirus vaccine is available. The university is currently working hard on this under the leadership of virologist Johan Neyts. However, it is expected that it will take approximately two years before a vaccine can be applied to humans.
Van Ranst is “pleased that chloroquine works effectively”. According to him, the product is “easy to produce in large quantities, even though there are currently few producers worldwide”.
“We hope that chloroquine, partly because it is very cheap, can have an worldwide impact on the antiviral treatment of patients with this new corona virus,” the scientist said.
Chloroquine was not tested on humans in 2004 because the SARS epidemic had just ended.