Tim Pool Hydroxychloroquine Fact Check

In Tim Pool’s December 3rd livestream with Destiny, the two online personalities got talking about hydroxychloroquine and Trump. Pool defended Trump’s statements about hydroxychloroquine while Destiny called Trump irresponsible and pointed out the weak evidence base supporting the usage of hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2.

During the conversation Pool confidently asserted “there was a ton of past research for coronavirus and SARS Covid 1 [sic], hydroxychloroquine was effective in reducing severity.”

This is false. Not a single human trial of hydroxychloroquine was conducted during or following the first SARS outbreak in 2003/04.

Through a thorough scouring of the medical literature, I was able to identify only four studies published before the current outbreak that were at all relevant in answering whether hydroxychloroquine worked for treating or preventing SARS infection (1, 2, 3, 4). Other scientific papers I identified were review or commentary articles which merely summarised the findings from other research without presenting any novel findings.

Even leaving aside their actual results these four studies do not make up “a ton of past research.” I’ve seen middle school essays with a better evidence base. That aside what do the studies actually say?

Well of the relevant four studies all but one were actually studying chloroquine, not hydroxychloroquine. Chloroquine is a drug with a similar structure and effect profile however it is not identical to hydroxychloroquine.

Three out of the four studies were preliminary investigations in cell culture models of disease – mainly in African green monkey cells. Cell culture models are incredibly useful when investigating the effects of drugs however any data generated from cell models is limited and as the famous XKCD cartoon notes: a handgun can also kill cells on a Petri dish. The one study that was looking at an animal model of disease was studying a mouse model. Mice models are certainly a step up from cells but still limited in their predictive capacity.

The studies examining chloroquine converge on the finding that the drug appears to have some ability to treat or prevent SARS infection in vitro (literally “in glass” i.e. in the Petri dish in the laboratory).

Finally, the single study specifically examining hydroxychloroquine in a cell model found “All compounds, except for HCQ [hydroxycholoroquine], were effective inhibitors of SARS-CoV replication in Vero cells within the 1-10ÌM concentration range.” [Emphasis mine].

Not only was Tim completely wrong about the existence of “a ton” of research about hydroxychloroquine and SARS, he was also wrong about the direction that research pointed. This is all little unfortunate for a man who claims to frequently fact check himself and who still has “journalist”  in his Twitter bio.

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