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Trial among healthcare workers tests if hydroxychloroquine can prevent COVID-19

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A global study led by University of Oxford researchers is testing if the drug hydroxychloroquine, commonly used to treat malaria, can prevent COVID-19 in frontline healthcare workers, including those at Oxford University Hospitals (OUH).

The trial opened to UK participants in Oxford and Brighton on Thursday 21 May 2020.

Laboratory evidence shows that these well-established drugs might be effective in preventing or treating COVID-19 but there is no conclusive proof. Despite the lack of strong evidence these drugs are being widely recommended, and they are being widely used in some countries - so finding out if they can protect against COVID-19 is of tremendous importance.

Led by the University of Oxford-supported Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, the COPCOV study is a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial that will enrol more than 40,000 frontline healthcare workers and staff across Europe, Africa, Asia and South America who have close contact with patients with COVID-19.

"COVID-19 is a major risk for frontline healthcare workers around the world," said COPCOV Co-Principal Investigator Professor Sir Nicholas White, of the University of Oxford, who is based at MORU. 

"We really do not know if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine are beneficial or harmful against COVID-19. The best way to find out if they are effective in preventing COVID-19 is in a randomised clinical trial. That's what COPCOV is - and why we're doing this study," he added.

The UK part of the trial is being managed by the Diabetes Trial Unit, based at the Churchill Hospital.

The head of the unit, Amanda Adler, said: "We'll be using the extensive experience we already have in running large international trials to run the COPCOV trial across the UK which will initially include 25 sites. 

"So far, there is no drug or vaccine that has been shown to prevent COVID-19 vaccination, and we'll be working closely with our MORU, Brighton, and Oxford University colleagues to find out if hydroxychloroquine can lower the risk of getting COVID-19 in UK health workers."

Although many countries have begun to bend the curve of new COVID-19 cases per day downwards, the possibility of a second wave of cases cannot be excluded, and developing additional tools to protect frontline healthcare workers from contracting COVID-19 remains very important.

The first two sites to begin enrolment will be OUH and Brighton. Four more sites are expected to open by the end of May 2020, with a total of 25 planned by the end of June 2020. Results from this global study are expected by the end of the year.

Any adult who works in a UK healthcare facility and is delivering direct care to patients with proven or suspected COVID-19 may participate in COPCOV, as long as they have not been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have an acute respiratory infection (ARI).

After being enrolled in the study and giving their fully informed consent, half the UK participants will receive hydroxychloroquine for three months and the other half a placebo. Selection will be random and neither the study team nor the participant will know if the participant is taking the drug or a placebo.

Watch a short video to explain what happens when you enrol in COPCOV.