Bayer donates millions of tablets of chloroquine to help in COVID-19 fight

Biopharma companies have scrambled to start new R&D projects and repurpose existing medicines amid the COVID-19 crisis. Now, Bayer is donating an older treatment to the U.S. government for potential use.

The company is donating 3 million tablets of malaria medicine chloroquine, a decades-old drug that's available for cheap. Axios first reported news of the donation Wednesday, citing a senior HHS official and another source with knowledge of the plan.

Bayer confirmed the donation Thursday.

Chloroquine isn’t approved to treat patients suffering from novel coronavirus infections, but some early studies have shown promise. 

In France, for instance, a professor conducted a small study of the malaria drug in 24 patients with novel coronavirus infections. Of those who received the medicine, only 25% tested positive for the virus after 6 days, according to en24. Meanwhile, of those who didn't receive it, 90% tested positive after that timeframe. The French government now plans to run larger studies. 

In a study published last month in Nature, authors wrote that “chloroquine is a cheap and a safe drug that has been used for more than 70 years and, therefore, it is potentially clinically applicable against the 2019-nCoV.” 

While there’s certainly more to learn about the potential therapy, chloroquine is just one of several drugs being explored to fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

RELATED: Coronavirus tracker: What's on pharma's drug-repurposing list?; social distancing may last months 

Sanofi and Regeneron are studying rheumatoid arthritis med Kevzara in patients with severe COVID-19, while Roche is exploring testing its arthritis med Actemra, NBC News reports. AbbVie is working with authorities on testing HIV meds Kaletra and Aluvia. And Gilead and others are already trialing the company’s investigational Ebola drug remdesivir, with data expected in April.

Besides those efforts, many companies—including Johnson & Johnson, Takeda, Sanofi and Pfizer—are advancing new drugs and vaccines.

As of Wednesday, officials around the world had reported more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases and more than 8,200 deaths.