President Donald Trump at a White House briefing on Thursday.

President Donald Trump at a White House briefing on Thursday. Credit: Abaca Press via Bloomberg / Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday said he directed the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track clinical trials of different drugs and therapies to treat COVID-19, adding that an anti-Malaria drug was showing “really good promise.”

Despite Trump’s assertions at the White House’s daily coronavirus task force briefing that the anti-Malaria medication — known by its brand name Plaquenil — would be “immediately” available, FDA officials cautioned that the drug was still in a clinical trial phase, and not yet authorized for prescription as a COVID-19 treatment.

Trump said he spoke “at length” with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo about deploying the drug — also known as hydroxychloroquine — to treat New York’s growing number of virus patients. 

“Based on the results, and other tests, there’s tremendous progress,” Trump said of the drug that has also been used to treat patients with lupus or arthritis.

New York State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said last Friday that researchers were looking at potential vaccines based on treatments for malaria and HIV.

“We’re trying to get more data on that,” Zucker said. “It was happening overseas.”

Zucker also said last week that it’s possible to develop a vaccine from people who had COVID-19 and recovered. There were no reports then of people who have recovered.

On Wednesday, however, Cuomo reported that more than 108 people were hospitalized for the virus and recovered, creating a potential pool for the research to which Zucker referred.

FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn, speaking at the briefing, said the agency has to ensure through its testing that “we'll get the right drug to the right patient at the right dosage at the right time." He added that without proper guidelines prescribing the drug to combat the virus “may do more harm than good."

A study published on March 9 by the medical journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, found the anti-malaria medication was effective in killing the virus in laboratory experiments. The Chinese researchers behind the study said “the drug has a good potential to combat the disease.” But World Health Organization officials have warned that those tests were not conducted on humans and it is too soon to label the drug an effective treatment for the virus.

Hahn said the agency is looking to other existing medications to determine if they are effective in countering the effects of the respiratory disease, and said researchers were also examining a process that would use plasma recovered from those who have survived the coronavirus to treat others battling the disease.

Asked about a timeline for a rollout of the different possible treatments, Hahn said: "Over the next couple of weeks, we'll have more information that we're really pushing hard to try to accelerate … and that will be a bridge to other therapies that will take us three to six months to develop … this is a continuous process, there is no beginning and end."

Trump also said Carnival Cruise Lines has offered ships "if we should need ships" to provide "lots of rooms." The president said New York and San Francisco would likely be locations for the ships to dock.

In a statement, Carnival said the ships would not serve COVID-19 patients, but would be used as temporary hospitals aimed at easing pressure on land-based hospitals. The "cruise ships are capable of being quickly provisioned to serve as hospitals with up to 1,000 hospital rooms that can treat patients suffering from less critical, non-COVID-19 conditions.”

With Michael Gormley

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