As efforts to discover new treatments for COVID-19 continue, attention has been brought upon an old drug, hydroxychloroquine. The renewed attention follows several statements by the Federal Drug Administration (“FDA”) and issuance of an Emergency Use Authorization for use of hydroxychloroquine from the national stockpile for treatment of COVID-19.
Hydroxychloroquine is a “modern” synthetic version of quinine which has been used for centuries for treatment of malaria. During the 1800s and early 1900s, quinine was given to British soldiers as a ration of tonic in certain geographic locations to prevent malaria. At some point, soldiers began adding gin to the tonic to cover the bitter taste of the quinine, leading to the popular cocktail. However, lest you be tempted to stave off COVID-19 with a steady stream self-quarantine gin and tonics, it should be noted that quinine has been recognized as being quite toxic since the 1940s, particularly with regard to retinal toxicity. High demand and the need for a safer alternative led to the creation of hydroxychloroquine by chemists Alexander R. Surrey and Henry F. Hammer in 1950.
If you are concerned hydroxychloroquine may be in short supply, you may be assured to know that no company has a monopoly on the production or sale of hydroxychloroquine. Hydroxychloroquine was once covered by U.S. Patent No. 2,546,658 which was issued to Surrey and Hammer in 1951, but this patent has long since expired. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, 10 companies were approved by the FDA to manufacture various generic versions of hydroxychloroquine in addition to the French company, Sanofi, who manufactures the brand name version, Plaquenil. With announcements of plans to escalate production from several of these companies, one would expect there to be an adequate supply if hydroxychloroquine is eventually shown to be an effective treatment for COVID-19.
For updates on COVID-19 and new guidance provided by BrownWinick attorneys, please visit our COVID-19 Resource Page.