South Dakota Will Become First to Hold Statewide Clinical Trial of Hydroxychloroquine to Treat Coronavirus

South Dakota will pioneer efforts for statewide clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine, a potential treatment for a new coronavirus, according to Governor Kristi Noem.

On Monday, Noem announced a clinical trial would begin, making South Dakota the first state to hold statewide clinical trials. President Donald Trump championed the drug as a possible treatment for the virus but sufficient clinical trials haven't been conducted to determine its efficacy or the safety of its use.

Noem said she has been in communication with the Trump administration, including Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, to ensure they were abreast of the state's plans. The first doses of the drug arrived in the Mount Rushmore State over the weekend and Noem said patients may already be receiving the drug.

"We're going on offense to help every single person deal with this virus and be willing to fight it and get better and go home to their families," Noem said during Monday's briefing.

Sanford Health will lead the effort, but Avera Health and Monument Health will also participate in the trial. The trial will start with about 2,000 people, according to the governor, but the state has enough doses to treat up to 100,000 people. Along with treating patients, Noem said the trial will give the state the data it needs to fight the virus in the future.

The trial will have two components, according to Dr. Allison Suttle, Sanford Health's chief medical officer. The first side, identified as the registry component, will give every South Dakotan who has tested positive COVID-19 and is a viable candidate, the option to receive hydroxychloroquine. The second side will be a randomized trial for people who were exposed to COVID-19, including health care workers, someone who lives with someone who tested positive and people within the vulnerable population.

coronavirus Hydroxychloroquine south dakota clinical trial trump
In this photo illustration a hydroxychloroquine sulfate medication pill is displayed on March 26 in London. On Monday, Governor Kristi Noem announced that South Dakota will begin clinical trials for hydroxychloroquine, making it the first state to hold statewide clinical trials. John Phillips/Getty

Suttle said the drug is taken similar to a Zithromax Z-Pak, where you take a loading dose for about four or five days but it stays inside your body for up to 50 days. Therefore, it could help individuals who may be exposed to fight the virus, according to Suttle. By potentially limiting the number of infections, Suttle said they can stop the virus from spreading.

"What we hope today by having these clinical trials, by offering this medication to all of those who may be impacted by COVID, is to really provide a treatment, to provide hope, to increase the information that we know about medications and to know what works," Suttle said.

Hydroxychloroquine has been used to treat malaria and showed signs it could be effective in treating SARS-CoV-2, the official name for the new coronavirus. However, there have been concerns about the use of the drug as a treatment, as it can have adverse effects on the heart. On Thursday, the National Institutes of Health announced a clinical trial was underway with participants at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

"Many U.S. hospitals are currently using hydroxychloroquine as first-line therapy for hospitalized patients with COVID-19 despite extremely limited clinical data supporting its effectiveness," Dr. Wesley Self, emergency medicine physician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said in a statement. "Thus, data on hydroxychloroquine for the treatment of COVID-19 are urgently needed to inform clinical practice."

The trial aimed to enroll more than 500 adults who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 or are in an emergency department with anticipated hospitalization.

South Dakota has had 868 cases and six deaths, according to the Department of Public Health. Noem said she was "excited" about the hydroxychloroquine trial, especially during a time period when much of the news is discouraging.

"The science of the virus tells us that we can't stop it but that we can slow it down and that we can take care of people while we're dealing with it," Noem said. "This announcement will make sure that we do it the best way possible."