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World’s largest trial of potential coronavirus treatments to be carried out in UK hospitals

Several promising treatments for Covid-19 are now entering a clinical trial, with results expected in a few months.

Medicines typically used to treat HIV, inflammation and malaria are being tested.

Matt Hancock speaking at Number 10's daily coronavirus press conference
Matt Hancock speaking at Number 10's daily coronavirus press conference

In just 15 days, almost 1,000 patients from 132 hospitals have been recruited to the randomised RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of COV-id19 thERapY) trial, making it the largest of its kind in the world.

It is one of three initiated by the government as part of its £20million rapid research response, led by a national alliance in which the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Sanger Institute are playing key roles.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who has recovered from the coronavirus infection, said more patients are invited to take part in the trials.

“The coronavirus outbreak is the biggest public health emergency in a generation and we are doing everything we can to fight it on all fronts through our evidence-based action plan,“ he said.

“The UK is leading the way on research in the race to find treatments and we have now launched the largest trial in the world, pooling resources with our world-leading life science sector.

“As one of three major trials funded by the government, this marks a major milestone in our battle against coronavirus and offers renewed hope that together we can beat this.

“The public still has a crucial role to play by staying at home so we can protect the NHS and save lives.”

The RECOVERY trial will test medicines recommended by an expert panel advising the Chief Medical Officer for England, including:

  • Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV;
  • Dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation; and
  • Hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria.

Adult patients admitted to hospital with Covid-19 are being invited to take part, and the trial is designed so that further medicines, once identified, can be added to the trial within days.

Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty said: “The UK has world-leading life sciences and research sectors and, because of our joined up healthcare and health research system, we have been able to get hundreds of patients involved in this clinical trial in just two weeks.

“This marks a significant step in identifying treatments for coronavirus that could benefit patients and underpins our science-backed approach to fighting this virus.”

The RECOVERY trial is being led by the University of Oxford by Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, and Martin Landray, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) has initiated a process of prioritising Covid-19 research, such as the RECOVERY trial, which is funded by £2.1million from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Department of Health and Social Care, through the NIHR.

The UK’s medicines regulator is fast-tracking clinical trials for potential coronavirus treatments, meaning medicines that prove effective will be available more quickly to NHS patients than normal.

The RECOVERY trial, which began on March 19, was set up in record time.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it is approving clinical trials in days, rather than weeks, without compromising patient safety.

Prof Horby said: “The RECOVERY trial will provide much-needed evidence on the best care for patients with Covid-19. The more patients that are enrolled, the sooner we will know how best to treat this disease.

“We are very grateful to those patients who are participating and to the hospital and research staff who are helping us to find the best treatments.”

Of the other national trials, one, called PRINCIPLE, is evaluating potential treatments for Covid-19 infection in older people. Details can be found at www.principletrial.org.

The other, called REMAP-CAP - visit https://www.remapcap.org/ - is a randomised trial for community-acquired pneumonia.

Mr Hancock also coinfirmed that the search for a reliable antibody test for Covid-19 - which will help to ramp up screening efforts - is ongoing.

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