As the world waits impatiently for a COVID-19 vaccine, the Pakistani arm of the largest global study to test if hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine can prevent COVID-19 in vital healthcare workers started enrolling participants at Aga Khan University on Wednesday. The study, COPCOV, is a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial which is considered to be the most robust method to prove the efficacy of a drug. The trial will see half of the participants given hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine while the other half will receive a placebo. Selection will be at random. To eliminate the chance of bias, neither study participants nor the administrators of the trial will know which group is receiving the drug or the placebo. Used for over 60 years to treat malaria, amoebic liver abscess and other diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, hydroxychloroquine – or chloroquine – has been shown in the laboratory to kill the novel coronavirus. AKU is the first centre outside of the UK to be participating in the study led by the University of Oxford in the UK and Wellcome-supported Mahidol Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU) in Bangkok, Thailand. Although there is increasing evidence that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine could work as a form of preventive medicine for COVID-19 – rather than when a person gets sick – researchers are still not sure. “I don’t know if hydroxychloroquine can prevent COVID-19 or not. But I do know that we really need to find out, and quickly. We could be waiting a long time for an effective vaccine,” said one of COPCOV’s co-principal investigators Professor Sir Nick White. “If there is a chance that it can offer valuable protection against COVID-19,” said Professor Asim Beg, the COPCOV’s principal investigator in Pakistan. “It’s imperative that the study finds out if it does.”The Pakistan COPCOV site at AKU is the first site outside the UK, joining five COPCOV sites operating in the UK. COPCOV is the only non-vaccine COVID prophylaxis study deemed to be of urgent public health importance by the UK’s NIHR Clinical Research Network. In Pakistan, the study is being supported by AKU’s Drs Farah Qamar, Faisal Mahmood, Noshin Nasir, Momin Qazi and Sonia Qureshi as well as Professor Saeed Hamid, director of AKU’s Clinical Trials Unit.