Clinical Pharmacology Perspectives on the Antiviral Activity of Azithromycin and Use in COVID-19

Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2020 Aug;108(2):201-211. doi: 10.1002/cpt.1857. Epub 2020 May 12.


Azithromycin (AZ) is a broad-spectrum macrolide antibiotic with a long half-life and a large volume of distribution. It is primarily used for the treatment of respiratory, enteric, and genitourinary bacterial infections. AZ is not approved for the treatment of viral infections, and there is no well-controlled, prospective, randomized clinical evidence to support AZ therapy in coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Nevertheless, there are anecdotal reports that some hospitals have begun to include AZ in combination with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine (CQ) for treatment of COVID-19. It is essential that the clinical pharmacology (CP) characteristics of AZ be considered in planning and conducting clinical trials of AZ alone or in combination with other agents, to ensure safe study conduct and to increase the probability of achieving definitive answers regarding efficacy of AZ in the treatment of COVID-19. The safety profile of AZ used as an antibacterial agent is well established.1 This work assesses published in vitro and clinical evidence for AZ as an agent with antiviral properties. It also provides basic CP information relevant for planning and initiating COVID-19 clinical studies with AZ, summarizes safety data from healthy volunteer studies, and safety and efficacy data from phase II and phase II/III studies in patients with uncomplicated malaria, including a phase II/III study in pediatric patients following administration of AZ and CQ in combination. This paper may also serve to facilitate the consideration and use of a priori-defined control groups for future research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Azithromycin / adverse effects
  • Azithromycin / pharmacokinetics
  • Azithromycin / pharmacology*
  • Azithromycin / therapeutic use*
  • Betacoronavirus / drug effects*
  • Betacoronavirus / pathogenicity
  • COVID-19 / drug therapy
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Coronavirus Infections / drug therapy
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Humans
  • Hydroxychloroquine / pharmacology
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Microbial Sensitivity Tests
  • SARS-CoV-2


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Hydroxychloroquine
  • Azithromycin

Supplementary concepts

  • COVID-19 drug treatment