Henry Ford defends hydroxychloroquine study, 'saddened' by drug's politicization

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A bottle and pills of Hydroxychloroquine sit on a counter at Rock Canyon Pharmacy in Provo, Utah, on May 20, 2020. - GEORGE FREY/AFP/Getty Images North America/TNS

DETROIT — Henry Ford Health System is defending a study that determined hydroxychloroquine was effective in lowering COVID-19 death rates but acknowledged the need for additional clinical trials.

A statement Monday comes three days after the nation’s top infectious disease expert called the July 2 study results “flawed.”

The Detroit-based health system agreed that the best study of the drug, as argued by Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday, was a “double-blind, randomized clinical trial.”

But “a whole scientific field exists in which scientists examine how a drug is working in the real world to get as best an answer as they can as soon as possible,” Drs. Adnan Munkarah and Steven Kalkanis wrote in an open letter Monday.

“Our promising Henry Ford treatment study should be considered as another important contribution to the other studies of hydroxychloroquine that describes what the authors found in our patient population,” Munkarah and Kalkanis wrote. “We — along with all doctors and scientists — eagerly support the need for randomized clinical trials.”

The doctors noted the importance of “scientific debate” in advancing the knowledge of drugs, but noted the politicization of hydroxychloroquine is a large obstacle to the process.

“Unfortunately, the political climate that has persisted has made any objective discussion about this drug impossible, and we are deeply saddened by this turn of events,” they wrote, noting researchers’ goal is to “allow the science to speak for itself.”

“To that end, we have made the heartfelt decision to have no further comment about this outside the medical community,” the doctors said.

Fauci told lawmakers Friday that the Henry Ford Health System study was “flawed” because it didn’t rely on a randomized, placebo controlled study to determine the drug’s effectiveness.

Additionally, the study looked at patients who also were receiving corticosteroids, “which we know from another study gives a clear benefit in reducing deaths with advanced disease,” Fauci told the U.S. House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

If the hospital system were to find hydroxychloroquine effective using a randomized, placebo-controlled trial, “I would be the first one to admit it and promote it,” Fauci said.

The health system found hydroxychloroquine helped lower the rate of death “significantly” in a study that analyzed 2,541 patients between March 10 and May 2. About 13% of those treated with hydroxychloroquine died while 26% of those who did not receive the drug died.

The hospital system warned that its results needed further study, particularly “prospective, randomized controlled trials.”

The hospital attributed its findings to earlier treatment, cardiac monitoring, new dosing, a different patient population and the use of steroids early in the infection.

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©2020 The Detroit News