Since in vitro studies and a preliminary clinical report suggested the efficacy of chloroquine for COVID-19-associated pneumonia, there is increasing interest in this old antimalarial drug. In this article, we discuss the pharmacokinetics and safety of chloroquine that should be considered in light of use in SARS-CoV-2 infections. Chloroquine is well absorbed and distributes extensively resulting in a large volume of distribution with an apparent and terminal half-life of 1.6 days and 2 weeks, respectively. Chloroquine is metabolized by cytochrome P450 and renal clearance is responsible for one third of total clearance. The lack of reliable information on target concentrations or doses for COVID-19 implies that for both adults and children, doses that proved effective and safe in malaria should be considered, such as ‘loading doses’ in adults (30 mg/kg over 48 h) and children (70 mg/kg over 5 days), which reported good tolerability. Here, plasma concentrations were < 2.5 μmol/L, which is associated with (minor) toxicity. While the influence of renal dysfunction, critical illness, or obesity seems small, in critically ill patients, reduced absorption may be anticipated. Clinical experience has shown that chloroquine has a narrow safety margin, as three times the adult therapeutic dosage for malaria can be lethal when given as a single dose. Although infrequent, poisoning in children is extremely dangerous where one to two tablets can potentially be fatal. In conclusion, the pharmacokinetic and safety properties of chloroquine suggest that chloroquine can be used safely for an acute virus infection, under corrected QT monitoring, but also that the safety margin is small, particularly in children.

References

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