The efficacy of hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) in treating SARS-CoV-2 infection is harshly debated, with observational and experimental studies reporting contrasting results. To clarify the role of HCQ in Covid-19 patients, we carried out a retrospective observational study of 4,396 unselected patients hospitalized for Covid-19 in Italy (February-May 2020). Patients' characteristics were collected at entry, including age, sex, obesity, smoking status, blood parameters, history of diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular and chronic pulmonary diseases, and medications in use. These were used to identify subtypes of patients with similar characteristics through hierarchical clustering based on Gower distance. Using multivariable Cox regressions, these clusters were then tested for association with mortality and modification of effect by treatment with HCQ. We identified two clusters, one of 3,913 younger patients with lower circulating inflammation levels and better renal function, and one of 483 generally older and more comorbid subjects, more prevalently men and smokers. The latter group was at increased death risk adjusted by HCQ (HR[CI95%] = 3.80[3.08-4.67]), while HCQ showed an independent inverse association (0.51[0.43-0.61]), as well as a significant influence of cluster∗HCQ interaction (p < 0.001). This was driven by a differential association of HCQ with mortality between the high (0.89[0.65-1.22]) and the low risk cluster (0.46[0.39-0.54]). These effects survived adjustments for additional medications in use and were concordant with associations with disease severity and outcome. These findings suggest a particularly beneficial effect of HCQ within low risk Covid-19 patients and may contribute to clarifying the current controversy on HCQ efficacy in Covid-19 treatment.
Copyright © 2021 Augusto Di Castelnuovo et al.