Chloroquine May Fight Covid-19and Silicon Valleys Into It – WIRED

The chatter about a promising drug to fight Covid-19 started, as chatter often does (but science does not), on Twitter. A blockchain investor named James Todaro tweeted that an 85-year-old malaria drug called chloroquine was a potential treatment and preventative against the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Todaro linked to a Google doc hed cowritten, explaining the idea.

Plus: How can I avoid catching it? Is Covid-19 more deadly than the flu? Our in-house Know-It-Alls answer your questions.

Though nearly a dozen drugs to treat coronavirus are in clinical trials in China, just oneremdesivir, an antiviral that was in trials against Ebola and the coronavirus MERSis in full-on trials in the US. Nothing has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. So a promising drug would be greatand even better, chloroquine isnt new. Its use dates back to World War II, and its derived from the bark of the chinchona tree, like quinine, a centuries-old antimalarial. That means the drug is now generic and is relatively cheap. Physicians understand it well, and theyre allowed to prescribe it for anything they want, not just malaria.

Todaros tweet got thousands of likes. The engineer/tech world picked up the idea. The widely-read blog Stratechery linked to Todaros Google document; Ben Thompson, the blogs editor, wrote that he was wholly unqualified to comment but that the anecdotal evidence favored the idea. Echoing the document, Thompson wrote that the paper was written in consultation with Stanford Medical School, the University of Alabama at Birmingham medical school, and National Academy of Sciences researchersnone of which is exactly true. (More on that in a bit.) One of Todaros coauthors, a lawyer named Gregory Rigano, went on Fox News to talk about the concept. Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted about it, citing an explanatory YouTube video from a physician whos been doing a series of coronavirus explainers. To be fair, Musk wasnt all-in on the idea absent more data, though he wrote that hed received a life-saving dose of chloroquine for malaria.

Its the definition of big if true. Part of the story of Covid-19, of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, is that it is novel. Humans dont have any immunity to it. Theres no vaccine, no drug approved to treat it. But if a drug did existif a cheap, easy drug can stave off the worst, ventilator-requiring, sometimes-fatal complications of coronavirus infection, or maybe prevent that infection in the first place, what are we all socially isolating for, like suckers?

That ifas the saying goesis doing a lot of work. The Covid-19 pandemic is causing, reasonably, a worldwide freak-out as scientists and policymakers race to find solutions, not always competently or efficiently. Its the kind of thing that rankles the engineer-disruptor mindset. Surely this must be an easily solved problem thats primarily the fault of bureaucracy, regulation, and people who dont understand science. And maybe the first two things are true. The third thing, though, is where the risks hide. Silicon Valley lionizes people who rush toward solutions and ignore problems; science is designed to find solutions by identifying those problems. The two approaches are often incompatible.

What happened here, specifically, is that Rigano sought Todaro out. Todaros tweet identified Rigano as being affiliated with Johns Hopkins; Riganos LinkedIn profile says hes on leave from a masters degree program there in bioinformatics, and has been an advisor to a program at Stanford called SPARK, which does translational drug discoveryfinding new uses and applications for approved drugs. I have a very unique background at the crossroads of law and science, Rigano tells me. I have been working with large pharmaceutical companies, universities, biotechs, and nonprofits in the development of drugs and medical products. He says those contacts told him about the use of chloroquine against Covid-19 in China and South Korea, so he started reading up on it.

(Johns Hopkins did not return a request for comment; a spokesperson for Stanford Medical School emails: Stanford Medicine, including SPARK, wasnt involved in the creation of the Google document, and weve requested that the author remove all references to us. In addition, Gregory Rigano is not an advisor with Stanford School of Medicine and no one at Stanford was involved in the study.)

It turns out that people have been pitching chloroquine as an antiviral for years. In the early 1990s researchers proposed it as an adjunct to early protease inhibitor drugs to help treat HIV/AIDS. A team led by Stuart Nichol, the head of the Special Pathogens Unit at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, published a paper in 2005 saying that the drug was effective against primate cells infected with SARS, the first big respiratory coronavirus to affect humans. Thats an in vitro test, not live animalsjust cells.

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Chloroquine May Fight Covid-19and Silicon Valleys Into It - WIRED

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