April 13 (UPI) -- A South Dakota rural healthcare provider will launch a clinical trial of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to see if it can cure or treat COVID-19, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem announced Monday.
The controlled study, which begins immediately, will include 2,000 healthy patients exposed to COVID-19, including frontline health care workers and first responders, a statement from Sanford Health said.
"Taking care of patients with an illness for which there are no treatments is very difficult for a physician and concerning for patients and families," said Allison Suttle, chief medical officer for Sanford Health. "By doing clinical trials during this pandemic, we are trying to find treatments and, thereby, hope."
"I applaud the leadership of Sanford Health for bringing their expertise and innovation to the table to help drive new and better treatments for this virus," said Noem in a statement.
"I'm proud of the way our state's health care leaders have collaborated with my administration to respond to this unprecedented challenge," Noem said.
Combined with existing stockpiles and a supply from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, the state of South Dakota has secured enough of the drug to potentially treat 100,000 people, the company said.
The drug has been controversial since President Donald Trump began to tout the potential effects of hydroxychloroquine in March.
"What if hydroxychloroquine doesn't work? What if it does? Right now, we don't know," Trumps said in March.
The drug has been used for 75 years to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last month approved chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine for clinical trials to treat coronavirus.
The National Institutes of Health announced last week it will launch a clinical trial of the drug, but it will be used on patients who are already hospitalized with COVID-19.
The New York Department of Health in March also launched a trial of a cocktail of chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic azithromycin.
Researchers in a small study in France of 40 patients found potential with the drug when combined with azithromycin. But the International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, which published the study online, later said that the research work did not meet its expected standards.
According to Bloomberg News, another Chinese study of 30 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 found the drugs made no difference in viral clearance between patients who got the drug and those who did not.
The drug is known to cause heart problems, a joint statement released Wednesday from cardiac health professional associations said, including irregular heartbeat, tachycardia and "increased risk of sudden death."