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Novartis CEO Cautions on Efficacy of Trump-Touted Covid-19 Treatment

Novartis CEO says it's 'too soon' to be sure whether two of the company’s anti-malaria drugs could prove to be an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus.

Novartis’s  (NVS) - Get Novartis AG Report CEO cautioned on Friday that it was “too soon” to know whether two of the company’s anti-malaria drugs could prove to be an effective treatment for the novel coronavirus, despite President Donald Trump touting them as a “game-changer."

Speaking on CNBC, Novartis CEO Vas Narashimhan said that while two of the company’s drugs - Hydroxychloroquine and Chloroquine - are being tested to see whether they can reduce the severity of Covid-19 or even prevent it, conclusive evidence of their effectiveness is still at least a year and a half to two years away.

“With Hydroxychloroquine, what we know is in pre-clinical studies, the drug is quite active against the coronavirus but these are, of course, not in human beings — not in patients,” Narasimhan told the network on Friday.

“I do think it is too soon to know for sure until we have properly controlled randomized studies,” he said. “We hope over the next 18 months to two years, we can come back with a vaccine that will ultimately be the definitive way to deal with this pandemic.”

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Chloroquine is a decades-old drug that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1949 to treat malaria. Its derivative, Hydroxychloroquine, is often used by doctors to treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Novartis is one of the main producers of the drug.

Speaking at a White House press briefing last week, Trump said that the two anti-malaria drugs were a “game-changer” in the global fight against the coronavirus pandemic, adding that they had shown “very, very encouraging results.″

“It’s shown very encouraging, very, very encouraging early results,” Trump told reporters. “And we’re going to be able to make that drug available almost immediately.”

As of Friday, more than 537,000 people around the world had contracted Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, with 24,110 deaths.

Novartis's American depositary receipts were down 2.09% at $78.08 in  New York trading on Friday.