Trials are due to start for five new drugs that British scientists hope could provide some form of treatment for Covid-19.
Up to 30 hospitals across the country are set to take part in the studies – overseen by the Accord (accelerating Covid-19 research and development) programme – which will aim to treat hundreds of coronavirus patients via a wide range of pathways.
The five drugs each have their own unique effects, ranging from anti-inflammatory to blood-thinning properties, which could target the different symptoms of Covid-19 and eliminate the need for intensive care treatment.
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“What we deliberately did was try and cover a range of mechanisms, not just put all our eggs in one basket,” Tom Wilkinson, a respiratory medicine professor at Southampton University, who is the Accord academic lead, told The Independent. “If one [drug] doesn’t work then the chances are that another may still do.
“So we’ve tried to cover everything from anti-viral activity to anti-inflammatory activity to protecting blood vessels in the lung, to other mechanisms. That’s the rationale behind this selection.”
Mr Wilkinson added that, with the number of Covid-19 cases in the UK falling, researchers are facing a race against time to enlist as many people as possible.
To date, only a handful of patients have been enrolled. It is estimated that each drug will need to be trialled by at least 60 infected people over the coming months.
“There’s a sort of an eye of a needle to get these drugs through these trials now, so if we do see an upsurge of the disease we’d be ready to use the therapy,” he said. “So that’s the focus.”
Age is not a preclusion from the trials, Mr Wilkinson said, though Covid-19 patients with underlying medical conditions, such as kidney failure or liver disease, will not be considered for the study.
The drugs set to be trialled are: Heparin (a blood-thinning agent used in hospitals across the UK); Zilucoplan (an inhibiter which can limit the over activation of the immune system); Calquence (a drug which targets severe lung inflammation); Bemcentinib (a tablet which has been shown to have a potent antiviral effect); and Medi3506 (an anti-inflammatory injection).
All but Heparin, which is naturally occurring and can be produced cheaply in large quantities, are patented by major pharmaceutical firms, such as AstraZeneca and UCB, and have been provided to the Accord trials for free.
The drugs were chosen from 200 potential candidates and if they prove unsuccessful in treating Covid-19, another round of medicines will be trialled.
“This is coming in several waves,” Mr Wilkinson said. “There’s a lot more drugs available for potential trials as people are recognising it’s a complex disease and they’re putting forward their own drugs and academics are identifying potential routes to therapy.”
The programme, which is also funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation, is being carried out in hospitals across the country.
“We’ve also got a range of hospitals from very large teaching hospitals, that do research all the time, down to the much district general hospitals which are admitting patients and now want to be having an active role in research,” Mr Wilkinson said.
These include St Thomas’ and Guy’s in London, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Leicester Royal Infirmary, Royal Gwent Hospital in Newport, Royal Surrey County Hospital and Basildon University Hospital, among others.
Mr Wilkinson said the “wide geographical distribution of sites” would allow researchers to study the disease when it appears in different parts of the country. He added that hospitals in costal parts of the UK, which have remained relatively quiet during the pandemic, could see a surge in cases as the lockdown eases and people flock to the beaches – as has already been seen in recent weeks.
“The point of the trial is we don’t know what the right is at the moment,” said Mr Wilkinson, “that’s why we’re trialling many and ideally we’d trial more if we can deliver these studies in a timely way.”
The studies will feed into the national research programme being run by Oxford University if they deliver positive results.