Daily briefing: The evidence is not stacking up for hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19

Examine the shaky evidence for the efficacy of a decades-old antimalarial against coronavirus. Plus: Canada begins the world’s largest clinical trial of survivors’ blood to treat COVID-19, and celebrating the life of astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge, who traced the origin of everything to the hearts of stars.

Search for this author in:

Search for this author in:

Search for this author in:

Hello Nature readers, would you like to get this Briefing in your inbox free every day? Sign up here

COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak

Simon Dawson/Reuters

UK prime minister is in intensive care

• UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in intensive care, with worsening COVID-19 symptoms. The British leader is not on a ventilator, but was moved as a precaution in case he needs one. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is standing in as head of the government. (BBC | 8 min read)

• Canada is beginning the world’s largest clinical trial of a COVID-19 treatment that uses the antibody-laden blood plasma of people who have recovered from the disease. The study will involve 1,000 patients in at least 40 hospitals across the country. The convalescent-plasma approach dates back to the 1890s, but even the trial’s leader, haematologist Donald Arnold, calls it a “Hail Mary” plan with only a small chance of success. (The Globe and Mail | 5 min read)

• The coronavirus dashboard put together by researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has become a cornerstone of our knowledge about the outbreak. Ensheng Dong, a first-year graduate student in civil and systems engineering, and his thesis advisor Lauren Gardner share how they built the website in just a few hours that now receives more than a billion hits per day. (Nature Index | 6 min read)

• Early in the spread of COVID-19, before it had an official name, many news outlets — including this newsletter — labelled the virus after Wuhan or China. I apologize, and so does a Nature editorial. The outdated practice of associating a virus and the disease it causes with a specific place is irresponsible and needs to stop, argues the editorial. (Nature | 4 min read)

Read the latest coronavirus news, continuously updated on Nature.

Read Nature’s continuously updated selection of the must-read papers and preprints on COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine stumbles under lack of evidence

Debate rages over whether a decades-old antimalarial, hydroxychloroquine, offers genuine promise as a potential COVID-19 treatment. The World Health Organization has included the drug in its global trial, SOLIDARITY, but its efficacy is as yet unproven.

• Pharmaceutical researcher Derek Lowe explores evidence from small trials and preprints that hydroxychloroquine is not effective against COVID-19. (Science Translational Medicine blog | 6 min read)

• Microbiologist Didier Raoult’s controversial research is the wellspring of some of the enthusiasm for the drug. The study has now received a statement of concern from the society that publishes the journal in which it appeared. (Retraction Watch | 3 min read)

• Attorney Olga Lucia Torres, who takes hydroxychloroquine to treat her lupus, describes her worries for people who rely on the drug. There have been some shortages as people snap up supplies in the wake of unsubstantiated recommendations from US President Donald Trump, prominent US media figures and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. (The New York Times | 5 min read)

Notable quotable

“It’s going to be the peak hospitalization, peak ICU week and unfortunately, peak death week.”

The coronavirus outbreak might be peaking in some areas of the United States, says physician-scientist Brett Giroir, a member of the White House coronavirus task force. (Reuters | 5 min read)

Features & opinion

Margaret Burbidge, who traced the origin of everything

Pioneering astrophysicist Margaret Burbidge, who helped to explain the origin of all chemical elements, from beryllium to zinc, died on Sunday at the age of 100. Burbidge was the lead author, along with William Fowler, Fred Hoyle and her late husband Geoffrey Burbidge, on a milestone 1957 paper that explained how stars synthesize many elements heavier than lithium through nuclear fusion. The paper helped Fowler to earn a Nobel Prize, an honour that some say Burbidge deserved, too. Burbidge was a trailblazer for women in the field — early in her career, she was barred from using some of the best telescopes of the time because of her gender.

New York Times | 7 min read

PhD students and supervisors disagree about the point of it all

A survey of PhD students and their supervisors in Australia has revealed an alarming gap in each other’s expectations. Students thought that publishing at least four papers and winning grants was the most important outcome of their candidature, but supervisors said critical thinking, written communication and discipline knowledge were the best indicators of success. The results show the importance of discussing expectations and goals early on, says the survey’s lead researcher Adam Cardilini.

Nature Index | 5 min read

Buried in a very readable profile of comedy misanthrope Larry David, there is advice from lustrous fashion designer Tom Ford about how to look good on a video call. Which I reproduce here in full (you’re welcome):

“Put the computer up on a stack of books so the camera is slightly higher than your head. Say, about the top of your head. And then point it down into your eyes. Then take a tall lamp and set it next to the computer on the side of your face you feel is best. The lamp should be in line with and slightly behind the computer so the light falls nicely on your face. Then put a piece of white paper or a white tablecloth on the table you are sitting at but make sure it can’t be seen in the frame. It will give you a bit of fill and bounce. And lots of powder, et voilà!”

This newsletter is always evolving — tell us what you think! Please send your feedback to

Flora Graham, senior editor, Nature Briefing

With contributions by Nicky Phillips and Davide Castelvecchi

Nature Briefing

An essential round-up of science news, opinion and analysis, delivered to your inbox every weekday.