Ruanne Barnabas receives grant to study antimalarial drug's use to prevent COVID-19

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

A new study led by Ruanne Barnabas, an associate professor of global health at the University of Washington Schools of Public Health and Medicine, has received a $9.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome Trust and Mastercard, as part of their COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator.

Ruanne Barnabas
Ruanne Barnabas

The groundbreaking study will investigate whether hydroxychloroquine, a prescription drug commonly used for treatment of malaria and certain inflammatory conditions, can prevent transmission of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in people exposed to the virus. The multi-site clinical trial will be led by the UW's Department of Global Health and its International Clinical Research Center, in collaboration with New York University's Grossman School of Medicine.

“We currently don’t know if hydroxychloroquine works, but we will learn in as short a time frame as possible what the outcome is,” said Barnabas in a news release from the Department of Global Health. Barnabas is also an adjunct associate professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. “Our goal is to stop transmission of COVID-19 in the community."

The study dubbed the COVID-19 PEP Study  aims to provide the global medical community with evidence on the effectiveness of using hydroxychloroquine as a post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent COVID-19. Researchers will enroll 2,000 people who have had recent exposure to someone with the virus. Participants will be randomly assigned to take hydroxychloroquine or a placebo over two weeks, and nasal swab samples will be collected and tested daily to confirm new COVID-19 infections across the two groups.

The trial is slated to run over eight weeks, beginning in April. If all goes well, researchers will have answers by summer.

This clinical trial is part of a $125 million COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, which seeks to speed the development and access to therapies against COVID-19.