May 25 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization announced Monday it was temporarily pausing international medical trials involving the malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which was touted by U.S. President Trump as a possible cure for COVID-19.
WHO's Solidarity Trial division will temporarily suspend trials for further review by the agency's Data Safety Monitoring Board, said Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
"The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and, in particular robust randomized available data, to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug," Tedros said in remarks.
More than 3,500 patients in 17 countries were enrolled in clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine for coronavirus treatment, Tedros said.
But a study of 15,000 patients published in the Lancet on Friday said taking the drug doubled the risks of dangerous cardiac side effects that could lead to death. But that study was retracted by the authors on Thursday over questions of the validity of the data.
Tedros added that the drug is accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria.
Hydroxychloroquine and related drug Chloroquine, have been used as anti-malarial drugs for decades. Doctors have also prescribed them for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.
In the United States, the Federal Drug Administration has approved testing under clinical conditions of hydroxychloroquine, and the drug combined with other drugs, such as zinc and antibiotic azithromycin, for treatment of COVID-19.
But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association have warned that using the drug without medical supervision can lead to increased risks of cardiac arrest.
Trump said last week he had been taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventative medication, but then Sunday announced he had stopped taking the drug.
There have been more than 5.4 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with around 345,000 deaths, according to a tracker from Johns Hopkins University.
In the United States, the number of COVID-19-related deaths approaches 100,000 with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases reported.
This story has been updated to reflect that a study published in The Lancet was retracted.