Great Britain

Potential coronavirus treatment one step closer as drug trials start at 15 NHS centres

NEW drugs for coronavirus have started being trialled across 15 NHS centres as the world gets a step closer to finding a treatment.

Experimental medicines for the deadly virus are being tested across the globe, as countries scramble to deal with the soaring death rates.

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The UK trials of the new drug called remdesivir will be carried out in England and Scotland, and overseen by infectious diseases expert Dr Andrew Ustianowski.

Dr Ustianowski has spent weeks working to help treat COVID-19 patients, and has seen how critically ill people can get once infected.

He said: "What we really need, and what we really want, is a specific treatment against Coronavirus that delays the infection, treats the infection, and hopefully makes people better.

"I think this drug is promising in the laboratory, and we're hopeful it will be as promising in humans.

"In my heart I'm hopeful, but we do need studies such as this to work out how well it works and how best to use it."

Manufacturer of the drug, Gilead, specialises in producing anti-viral medications.

Gilead general manager Hilary Hutton-Squire said the drug is a product of a ten years worth of work.

She said: "For about a decade we've been looking at what we call emerging viruses, looking at viruses that aren't a problem yet but could be in the future.

"Coronaviruses are an important category of virus because when we've seen them jump from animals to humans previously they've caused a lot of problems as with SARS and MERS,.

"Remdesivir was a product we had looked at against SARS and MERS and seen that it had some activity, and that's why we thought it was really important to see if it has a role to play in treating patients with COVID-19 as quickly as we can."

UK regulator Medicines and Healthcare Produces Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said they would prioritise and support any new drugs that could help the fight against COVID-19.

Remdesivir has also been considered as a potential treatment for Ebola.

The drug is designed to interfere with the way the virus reproduces and stops it from multiplying inside the body.

Leeds University virus expert Dr Stephen Griffin said there was a lot of promise in the new drug.

He said: "This broad-spectrum antiviral agent is well accepted to hold promise for the treatment of COVID19.

"Critically the proposed clinical studieswill allow the true efficacy of this agent to be determined in the human scenario, plus the numbers of patients involved should highlight any potential safety concerns in COVID patients that may not be evident from its previous use on a compassionate basis.

He said it had tremendous potential while the world waits for a vaccine.

"Given that a (coronavirus) vaccine may require several months to develop and scale up, an effective antiviral therapy has tremendous potential to lessen the severity of COVID19 in the short to medium term.

"(The) use of this agent in a hospital setting could have a profound impact upon the ability of healthcare systems to cope with this extraordinary pandemic."

Oxford University researchers have also started trials on patients to see if HIV or inflammation drugs can help treat coronavirus. 

Experts in Australia are also testing drugs normally used for malaria on patients with the virus.

Scientists across the world are racing to find a vaccine for coronavirus, and Oxford University Professor Andrew Pollard said it could only be six months until they have a successful jab.

One east London lab is offering to pay people £3,500 to be infected and monitored to test new drugs.

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