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Coronavirus Drug Exclusive: Meet The Doctor Behind The Hydroxychloroquine Treatment, And What's Next For Its Use

ROSLYN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - One New York doctor claims to have kept hundreds of coronavirus patients out of the hospital with a cocktail of medications.

It's been criticized as unproven, but now a major hospital in New York is launching a clinical trial based on the treatment, reports CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

In the village of Kiryas Joel in Orange County, Dr. Vladimir Zelenko, a self-described "country doctor," says a cocktail of medicines keeps his patients alive.

Weeks ago, he recorded this message for President Donald Trump: "I'm seeing tremendous positive results. I haven't sent any patient to the hospital yet, even though I've treated hundreds already."

Zelenko prescribes the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine but only when two other substances are added, an antibiotic and zinc.

"All the hydroxychloroquine does is open the door and let the zinc in," said Zelenko, a board-certified family physician.

Hydroxychloroquine got the president's attention, and swiftly got him criticism for touting unfounded cures.

"There are people dying," said Trump at the time. "If it works, that would be great."

MORE: Max Minute: Can Hydroxychloroquine Help Coronavirus Patients?

It's Zelenko's combination of meds given early on when people first get sick that makes his protocol unique. He claims of his 400 patients at high risk for severe illness, only two died.

In New York State, though, that's a Catch-22. To prevent shortages, pharmacists can only dispense hydroxychloroquine for severe hospital-based cases. By then, Zelenko says it's ineffective.

"There is a very narrow window of opportunity where you can hit this virus hard and early where it makes all the difference," said Zelenko.

Now science will weigh in. St. Francis Hospital in Roslyn is launching a study using essentially Zelenko's cocktail. On newly symptomatic patients with underlying conditions, Hydroxychloroquine and zinc will be given to all of them.

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Two groups will receive different antibiotics.

Cardiologist Dr. Avni Thakore is the study's principal investigator.

"What we know about the mechanism of action of the drugs suggests they could be helpful early in the course of a viral infection," said Thakore. "We know zinc is an anti-viral. We know that hydroxychloroquine can help reduce an immune response that can get out of control. We also know zinc helps the hydroxychloroquine come inside the cell."

Administered early, rather than as a Hail Mary for the sickest which has had disappointing results, and to protect participants from any increased heart risk that have prompted safety concerns, Thakore notes "we are going to be monitoring their EKG from home."

In all touted treatments, data is first needed, says cardiologist Dr. Alan Kadish, president of Touro College.

"All drugs have side effects and we don't want to treat millions of people with a combination that we don't know is safe and effective," said Kadish.

MORE: Coronavirus New Warning: FDA Alerts About Hydroxychloroquine, Chloroquine Use After Poisonings, Deaths

"If we can manage this early and control it, and prevent people from getting very sick and hospitalized, that's where we need to have good data and good science," said Thakore.

Zelenko, who's offered up his cases for peer review, is hopeful.

"This is an absolute revolution in how this disease will be treated," he said.

The study will enroll 750 patients with early symptoms.

To see if you are eligible for this clinical trial, download this St. Francis Hospital criteria and either call 516-414-3056 or visit the St. Francis Hospital emergency room if you suspect you have early COVID-19 symptoms.

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