Teva Rushes to Bring Malaria Drug to U.S. Coronavirus Patients

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. said it plans to donate six million tablets of hydroxychloroquine sulfate, a malaria drug touted by President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for the coronavirus, to help U.S. hospitals meet a potential surge in demand.

The Israeli company is one of the world’s largest makers of hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic version of the common drug chloroquine. Though the treatment hasn’t yet been approved for use in patients with Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Trump said on Thursday that he has urged health authorities to expand its use.

Teva will donate 6 million tablets to U.S. hospitals through wholesalers by March 31, and more than 10 million within a month, the company said Thursday.

Officials from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and Food and Drug Administration approached the generic-drug giant this week asking if it could increase shipments of hydroxychloroquine, which has been used to treat malaria for decades, Teva spokeswoman Kelley Dougherty said in an interview. The health officials and U.S.-based Teva executives held multiple phone calls throughout the week.

“We’re directly responding to a need that was brought to us by the U.S. government,” Dougherty said. “This is a unique situation. We acknowledge that this is not currently for on-label use. But we are responding to the government and the promise that is being seen in the use of this product for Covid-19.”

Representatives for the HHS and FDA didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment after normal business hours.

Meanwhile, Mylan NV said Thursday it would immediately ramp up manufacturing of hydroxychloroquine pills at its West Virgina facility to meet expected high demand if the medication is shown to be effective against the disease. Germany’s Bayer AG said that it had donated three million tablets of Resochin, a chloroquine treatment, to the U.S.

Still in Question

More than a dozen generic drugmakers, including Teva, Mylan and Novartis AG’s Sandoz unit, manufacture chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which comes with few major known side effects, is relatively inexpensive and is widely used around the world. It’s also been been touted by Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk as a potential treatment, and China has been testing it as well.

Still, it’s not clear whether the malaria drug will work against illness caused by novel coronavirus. A March 10 review of existing research found there’s little solid proof one way or the other.

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