Hydroxychloroquine and COVID-19: can we learn from the use of rituximab
in systemic lupus erythematosus?
Fernando Kemta Lekpa1,2,3,&, Bertrand Hugo Mbatchou Ngahane1, Sylvain Raoul Simeni Njonnou2,3, Hermine Fouda1, Marie Patrice Halle1, Yacouba Mapoure Njankouo1, Anastase Dzudie1,3, Simeon Pierre Choukem1,2,3,4, Henry Namme Luma1
1Internal Medicine Department, Douala General Hospital, Douala, Cameroon, 2Department of Internal Medicine and Specialties, Faculty of Medicine and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Dschang, Dschang, Cameroon, 3The University of Dschang Taskforce for the Elimination of COVID-19 (UNITED#COVID-19), Dschang, Cameroon, 4Health and Human Development (2HD) Research Network, Douala, Cameroon
Fernando Kemta Lekpa, Internal Medicine Department, Douala General Hospital, Douala, Cameroon
Rituximab (RTX), a chimeric monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody has become
part of the standard therapy for patients with CD20-expressing B-cell lymphoma
and rheumatoid arthritis. After encouraging results with open studies in
systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), RTX has not shown its effectiveness in
randomized controlled trials. However, its efficacy has been validated in
renal, hematological, and neuropsychiatric disorders. Understanding the history
of RTX in SLE would be instructive in the hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) saga in
COVID-19. Three steps would be necessary and sufficient before definitively
closing the debate: 1) determine the effective and safe dose of HCQ, as well
as the minimum duration of treatment in COVID-19; 2) define the profile of
patients in whom HCQ would be more likely to be effective (especially in
asymptomatic patients and/or at the onset of the first signs of the disease)
and 3) conduct one or more multicentre RCT to evaluate the efficacy and safety
of HCQ in COVID-19 in SSA.
Sir, Rituximab (RTX), a chimeric monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody, has become part of the standard therapy for patients with CD20-expressing B-cell lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis. The first data from observational studies had given satisfactory results in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) refractory to conventional treatments . These results have not always been confirmed by randomized controlled trials (RCT). However, positive results have been described for some locations in this non-specific systemic organ auto-immune disease. Thus, RTX is currently used off-label, particularly in patients with severe renal, hematological and/or neuropsychiatric disease refractory to other immunosuppressive therapies or in patients with contraindications to these drugs . More so, RTX is included in the 2019 updates of the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) recommendations for the management of SLE .
Although hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is recommended for all patients with SLE , this drug has found a new usage with the COVID-19 disease. This COVID-19 made HCQ the most publicized drug of 2020 . After the positive results from observational studies on HCQ in COVID-19 , wide use of this drug has been observed worldwide . Subsequently, RCT, systematic reviews and meta-analysis with contradictory results were also published. The Cochrane review declared HCQ persona non grata in COVID-19, thus signing game over by showing that HCQ has little or no effect on the risk of death and probably no effect on the progression to mechanical ventilation for people infected with COVID-19 .
HCQ with or without azithromycin has been widely used as a treatment protocol for COVID-19 by many countries in SSA, in the absence of controlled trials and with different dosage (Table 1) [7, 8]. The same is true for some herbal medicines which have been widely used in the absence of evidence of their effectiveness . The limited access to therapeutic resources in SSA  leads us to ask ourselves once again the following question: apart from the young age of Africans, is the low mortality in SSA linked to the wide use of herbal medicines and dietary therapy or the result of the effectiveness of HCQ in COVID-19 in this population? To find out, it would be imperative not to consider the recommendation of the Cochrane review to no longer conduct further trials on HCQ for the treatment of COVID-19, but to conduct clinical trials on available drugs and herbal medicines accessible in SSA at a cost that the community and African countries can afford.
Understanding the history of RTX in SLE would be instructive in the HCQ saga in COVID-19. In the absence of data on the populations of SSA from the “Solidarity” clinical trial, three steps would be necessary and sufficient before definitively closing the debate: 1) determine the effective and safe dose of HCQ, as well as the minimum duration of treatment in COVID-19; 2) define the profile of patients in whom HCQ would be more likely to be effective (especially in asymptomatic patients and/or at the onset of the first signs of the disease); and 3) conduct one or more multicentre RCT to evaluate the efficacy and safety of HCQ in COVID-19 in SSA.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Conception and design: FKL, BHMN, SRSN, SPC and HNL. Drafting of
the manuscript: FKL, BHMN, SRSN, SPC and HNL. Reviewing manuscript:
FKL, BHMN, SRSN, HF, MPH, YMN, AD, SPC and HNL. All the authors
read and approved
the final draft for publication.
1: different dosages of hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 used at the
Douala General Hospital, Douala, Cameroon*
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