A small white pill continues to be a controversial touchstone in an ongoing debate about potential treatments for COVID-19.

The Henry Ford Health System has issued an open letter about a study it published in July that found hydroxychloroquine cut the death rate by 50% in certain sick patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

Saying “the political climate that has persisted has made any objective discussion about this drug impossible,” the Henry Ford Health System said in the letter that it will no longer comment outside the medical community on the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat novel coronavirus.

“We are deeply saddened by this turn of events,” said the letter, signed Saturday by Dr. Adnan Munkarah, Henry Ford’s executive vice president and chief clinical officer, and Dr. Steven Kalkanis, senior vice president and chief academic officer.

“Like all observational research, these studies are very difficult to analyze and can never completely account for the biases inherent in how doctors make different decisions to treat different patients. Furthermore, it is not unusual that results from such studies vary in different populations and at different times, and no one study can ever be considered all by itself.”

The peer-reviewed study, published July 2 in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, contradicted other published reports that showed the drug, commonly used to treat malaria and lupus, is of no benefit to coronavirus patients and could cause harm to some. Henry Ford’s study was criticized by many in the medical community as an outlier because it was observational, retrospective and not randomized or controlled.

The letter comes after Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, called the Henry Ford study flawed in his testimony Thursday at a Congressional hearing on the federal government’s efforts to control the pandemic.

“The Henry Ford hospital study … was confounded by a number of issues, including the fact that many of the people who are receiving hydroxychloroquine were also receiving corticosteroids, which we know from another study gives a clear benefit in reducing deaths with advanced disease,” Fauci said.

“So that study is a flawed study. … When I do see a randomized placebo-controlled trial that looks at any aspect of hydroxychloroquine — either early study, middle study or late — if that randomized placebo-controlled trial shows efficacy, I would be the first one to admit it and to promote it.

“I have not seen yet a randomized placebo-controlled trial that’s done that. And in fact, every randomized placebo-controlled trial that has looked at it has shown no efficacy. So I just have to go with the data. I don’t have any horse in the game one way or the other. I just look at the data.”

President Donald Trump has repeatedly touted hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, often speaking about it during his White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings in April and May, despite a lack of research supporting his claims.

He said earlier this year that he was taking the drug, hoping it would prevent him from contracting the virus.

Trump tweeted July 6: “The highly respected Henry Ford Health System just reported, based on a large sampling, that HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE cut the death rate in certain sick patients very significantly. The Dems disparaged it for political reasons (me!). Disgraceful. Act now”

The highly respected Henry Ford Health System just reported, based on a large sampling, that HYDROXYCHLOROQUINE cut the death rate in certain sick patients very significantly. The Dems disparaged it for political reasons (me!). Disgraceful. Act now @US_FDA @TuckerCarlson @FoxNews
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 7, 2020

People who use hydroxychloroquine for treatment of autoimmune disorders complained that Trump’s praise of the medicine to stave off or help people fight coronavirus put the drug in high demand and made it difficult for them to fill prescriptions.

On June 15, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration withdrew emergency use authorization of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients who are not part of a clinical trial.

The World Health Organization also issued a statement about hydroxychloroquine, saying it was also abandoning the testing of the drug for hospitalized coronavirus patients, saying there was “little or no reduction in the mortality of hospitalized COVID-19 patients when compared to standard of care” but that there were some safety concerns

The Henry Ford Health System is continuing with another research study of hydroxychloroquine that was announced in April in conjunction with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. It’s the first large-scale U.S. study to investigate whether using the drug can prevent coronavirus among 3,000 health care workers and first-responders.

The outcome of that research has yet to be published.

Contact Kristen Jordan Shamus: 313-222-5997 or kshamus@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @kristenshamus.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: After Fauci criticism, Henry Ford Health says it won’t comment on hydroxychloroquine

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