South Dakota is set to become the first state in the nation to test the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19.
Gov. Noem announced Monday that South Dakota is working with health care providers in the state to conduct a state-wide clinical trial on hydroxychloroquine.
In a press release Monday, Sanford Health said it will lead the study. Other major state health care providers, including Avera Health and Rapid City-based Monument Health, say they are supporting the trial.
What is hydroxychloroquine?
Hydroxychloroquine is a drug used to treat malaria.
Sanford Health infectious disease expert Dr. Susan Hoover is the the principal investigator in the study. She said while this drug has been widely administered in the hope that it can help people with COVID-19, without controlled research studies, doctors "aren't able to say for sure that it really works."
The drug gained fame after President Donald Trump touted it as a potential treatment for COVID-19, but so far there is little clinical evidence regarding the effectiveness of the drug on the disease. South Dakota's clinical trial aims to change that.
The president ot the American Medical Association previously told ABC News the drug comes with potential risks of severe side effects, including heart rhythm problems. However, Sanford described the medication as a "well-tolerated medicine," saying most side effects are mild and that serious side effects are "rare."
"Going on offense"
Noem said Monday that while the state's mitigation efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 are working, the trial is a way for South Dakota to go on the offensive against the coronavirus.
Currently, there are no drugs or therapeutics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19, according to Sanford Health.
Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allison Suttle called the trial an "excellent opportunity."
Suttle said patients who test positive for COVID-19 can talk with their health care provider about taking part in the trial. There is no extra cost to the patient.
When asked how soon we could see results from the tests, Suttle said large clinical trials take up to five years, but she said the state could start seeing preliminary results from the trial soon after patients begin getting the treatment.
How the study works
According to their press release, Sanford currently has clinical guidelines in place to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to hospitalized COVID-19 positive patients. Sanford has developed this new randomized placebo-controlled research study to investigate prescribing hydroxychloroquine to health care workers and high-risk populations who have been exposed to the coronavirus. This part of the treatment trial is designed to determine whether the medication can prevent the illness or minimize symptoms in these individuals.
Researchers hypothesize that hydroxychloroquine could help an individual’s immune system as it works to fight off the disease. The medication may slow the replication process of the virus in the human body and allow the patient’s own immune system to get a better start in fighting the illness.
Participants will be screened to see whether they have medical conditions that would make hydroxychloroquine less safe for them.
The trial aims to include 2,000 participants, but officials say South Dakota has a stockpile allowing up to 100,000 patients to be treated.
More: COVID-19 in South Dakota