Health minister Greg Hunt says he has personally acted to secure supplies of a drug currently being trialled for the treatment of symptoms associated COVID-19.
Speaking on A Current Affair Wednesday evening, Mr Hunt said, "I have just come off a call with a supplier and I am confident we will have a significant supply of hydroxychloroquine if doctors wish to use them with patients who are in hospital."
He did not reveal the company. There are several registered brands of hydroxychloroquine in Australia and it is reimbursed via the PBS. It is used for the treatment of malaria and lupus.
Novartis recently announced it would donate up to 130 million doses of its hydroxychloroquine for the fight against COVID-19. It has already shipped 30 million doses for trials in the US.
Hydroxychloroquine is one of several existing drugs being tested for the symptomatic treatment of COVID-19. Gilead is progressing remdesivir, which was initially developed to treat Ebola, and is currently conducting two late-stage clinical trials against COVID-19. The trials were quickly established after an animal trial showed it could improve respiratory symptoms associated with COVID-19.
Minister Hunt acknowledged the evidence for hydroxychloroquine's efficacy against COVID-19 is early but said experts are "cautiously hopeful" it can have an impact.
The New York Times has reported the small early trials in China have shown hydroxychloroquine helped to speed the recovery of patients who were mildly ill from COVID-19.
"Cough, fever and pneumonia went away faster, and the disease seemed less likely to turn severe in people who received hydroxychloroquine than in a comparison group not given the drug," said the report.
In response to a question about a potential vaccine, Minister Hunt said no realistic timeframe has been established on its development.
“We would rather put out there preventions, hydroxychloroquine, things such as that," he said. “I’m confident we will have a significant supply of hydroxychloroquine, which will be available, if doctors wish to use them with patients who are in hospital. Those are the terms. That is breaking news.”