SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continues to spread, leading to more than 20,000 deaths worldwide in less than four months. Efforts are progressing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, but it’s still likely 12 to 18 months away.
In the meantime, the pandemic, with over 400,000 confirmed cases worldwide already, is driving researchers to find safe and effective therapies for patients with COVID-19, and an antimalarial drug is potentially on the front lines of that effort. While new and repurposed drugs are being tested in clinical trials, some of these promising drugs are simultaneously being used off-label for compassionate use to treat patients.
Some of the medications being used to treat COVID-19 are known to cause drug-induced prolongation of the QTc of some people. The QTc is an indicator of the health of the heart’s electrical recharging system. Patients with a dangerously prolonged QTc are at increased risk for potentially life-threatening ventricular rhythm abnormalities that can culminate in sudden cardiac death.
“Correctly identifying which patients are most susceptible to this unwanted, tragic side effect and knowing how to safely use these medications is important in neutralizing this threat,” says Michael J. Ackerman, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic genetic cardiologist. Dr. Ackerman is director of the Mayo Clinic Windland Smith Rice Comprehensive Sudden Cardiac Death Program.
A study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings details more information about potential dangers and the application of QTc monitoring to guide treatment when using drugs that can cause heart rhythm changes. Dr. Ackerman is the senior author of the study.