Clinical trials begin for drugs that might help treat coronavirus symptoms

WASHINGTON, D.C. (NEXSTAR) – Clinical trials began Tuesday, March 24 for drugs that might be helpful treating coronavirus symptoms. Some health experts worry we may run out of their supply before we even know whether they’re successful in combating the virus.

There’s already a shortage of key drugs that might treat coronavirus symptoms and the FDA isn’t even sure if they work yet.

“What that means right now is that supply chain channels are depleted of both of these products,” Soumi Saha with Premier Inc. said.

Saha, with health care company Premier Inc., said demand among hospitals  for the drugs hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have gone up 300% and 3,000% percent respectively.

These same drugs are used to treat medical conditions like arthritis or lupus.

As hospitals order them in large quantities preparing for coronavirus patients, those who need them now may suffer.

“They may have some difficulty obtaining those drugs,” Saha said.

Saha said mass producing more of these drugs won’t be easy. The active pharmaceutical ingredients in them come from overseas.

“There may be spot shortages. We’re keeping an eye on that,” FDA Director Dr. Stephen Hahn said.

Hahn said if the drugs can treat the coronavirus, his agency will work with the federal government to produce them quickly.

“We’re trying to increase manufacturers’ production, both domestic and international,” Hahn said.

“They’re relatively safe medications, so there’s probably no down side,” Representative Ami Bera, D-California, said.

Congressman Bera was cautiously optimistic about the drug trials, but he said because they’re in short supply, they should be prescribed carefully.

“If in fact we see positive results from this, we ought to prioritize the use of these medications for hospitalized patients,” Bera said.

The FDA wants these trials to be a top priority as the coronavirus continues to spread.