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Courtesy of UNM Hospital

Courtesy of UNM Hospital

UNMH begins clinical trials for COVID-19 treatments

The University of New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) started one clinical trial and is preparing another to examine potential treatments for COVID-19, as deaths and cases swell across the world.

A trial for hydroxychloroquine, a drug typically used to treat malaria and lupus, started last week, while an upcoming trial for remdesivir, an antiviral developed during the 2015 Ebola epidemic, is in the works. 

Both trials are small parts of an unprecedented global research effort to find treatments and a vaccine.

Dr. Michelle Harkins, the chief of the pulmonary and critical care group at UNMH, is leading the trials. 

She said her team started a trial with hydroxychloroquine and an antibiotic to see if the combination would decrease the virus’ stay in the body — and if the combination was safe. 

In an interview with the Daily Lobo last week, Harkins said she intended to expand upon a French study that tested 36 patients.  

Hydroxychloroquine can create complications with heart rates. In Arizona, a man died after self-medicating with a similar drug called chloroquine phosphate. 

Hydroxychloroquine has also become a mainstay in partisan circles online. Some, including U.S. President Donald Trump, suggested the drug might be a “game-changer.”

Others, including another study out of France, suggested hydroxychloroquine may be ineffective against COVID-19. 

Harkins’ trial is aimed at answering that question. Still, she cautioned against consumers buying the drug outside of prescriptions. 

“The problem is a number of patients take this medication for underlying rheumatologic problems,” Harkins said. “If we ramp up and use this drug indiscriminately — not knowing if it works — then that’s going to become a problem because there will be a shortage.”

The second trial in the works is the antiviral drug remdesivir. Harkins said last week she had one patient on the drug so far but was working with Gilead Sciences, the drug's manufacturer, for more doses. 

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“We don’t know if this drug is going to work,” Harkins said. “There’s suggestion it has been helpful against Ebola and there’s been some activity against SARS and MERS viruses.” 

Like hydroxychloroquine, Harkins said they were looking to see if remdesivir could reduce how long the virus stayed inside the body. 

It’s still unclear if remdesivir will be effective, however, Gilead Sciences has ramped up production in anticipation of high demand. 

“Providing our existing supplies at no charge is the right thing to do, to facilitate access to patients as quickly as possible and in recognition of the public emergency posed by this pandemic,” Gilead Chief Executive Officer Daniel O’Day wrote in an open letter

Gilead is known infamously by some as the big pharma corporation that charged over $1,000 per pill for a Hepatitis C treatment. The roll-out triggered a lawsuit against Gilead for price gouging. 

Clinical trials typically take weeks before results are available. 

As of the publication of this article, there are 624 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New Mexico, with 246 in Bernalillo County.

Justin Garcia is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at or on Twitter @Just516garc 

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