Trump directs the FDA to examine whether malaria medication can be used

President Donald Trump said Thursday that he had directed the Food and Drug Administration to study whether an existing drug administered to malaria could also be used to treat the new coronavirus.

There is no proven treatment for the COVID-19 virus, which has quickly become a pandemic. U.S. health officials say a ready-to-use vaccine could take 12 to 18 months.

But some scientists claimed early in the epidemic that the anti-malaria drug, chloroquine, could be a potential treatment for the new virus.

It is important “not to give false hopes,” FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn told the White House daily briefing on coronavirus. But Trump has “asked us to be aggressive” and “to break through exciting and life-saving treatments, and we’re doing it to the FDA,” Hahn said.

The World Health Organization, however, said last month that “there is no evidence” that the drug is effective in treating coronavirus.

Trump said the United States would be able to make the anti-malaria drug available “almost immediately” and that it “has been approved.” But several outlets reported minutes after the FDA had not approved chloroquine for use in the treatment of coronavirus.

The FDA did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Thursday’s briefing announcement came a few hours after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House’s massive economic stimulus proposal will include $ 500 billion in direct payments to Americans.

United States President Donald Trump listens to FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn (R) talk about the latest developments in the coronavirus epidemic, in the James Brady Press Briefing Room in the White House on March 19, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

That money would be divided into two large tranches, each of which would provide $ 1,000 per person and $ 500 per child – meaning a family of four would get $ 3,000, Mnuchin said in an interview with Fox Business Network.

“As soon as Congress approves it, we’ll get it out in three weeks. And then, six weeks later, if the president still has a national emergency, we’ll hand over another $ 3,000,” said Mnuchin.

The Trump administration also asked Congress for an additional $ 45.8 billion to cover the “unexpected” costs incurred by agencies responding to the crisis.

Hahn, the leader of one of those agencies, told the White House that the FDA is “committed to continuing to provide flexibility and regulatory orientation.”

“We are looking at everything that is going through our banks as possible treatment options” for coronavirus, said Hahn.

Some health authorities in the U.S. and China have used Gilead Sciences’ Remdesivir antiviral drug, which has been tested as a possible treatment for the Ebola outbreak, in the hope that the drug will shorten the life span of the virus in patients. The Kaletra antiviral drug, developed by the pharmacist AbbVie, has also been used by some authorities through so-called compassionate use programs.

The coronavirus novel, believed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, quickly spread worldwide, infecting over 219,000 people and killing at least 8,900, data from Johns Hopkins University. In the United States, over 9,100 cases have so far been confirmed and at least 150 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins.

These are the latest news. Check back for updates.

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