Coronavirus patients in the UK have started to receive an anti-malaria drug that US President Donald Trump has labelled a ‘game-changer’.
And early signs of whether a British coronavirus vaccine works – or doesn’t – may be only weeks away, a leading expert has said.
Professor Sarah Gilbert said yesterday she was ’80 per cent confident’ a vaccine that her team is developing at Oxford University would be effective, and that it could be ready by September.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and the Royal Devon and Exeter have started handing out anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine in a bid to keep seriously-ill Covid-19 patients alive.
Coronavirus patients in the NHS have started to receive an anti-malaria drug that US President Donald Trump has labelled a ‘game-changer’
Chinese guidance on how to manage the virus has already begun to incorporate the drug but the NHS has ‘strongly discouraged’ its use up until this point because evidence of its effectiveness is limited.
WhatsApp messages, seen by The Telegraph, from doctors involved in administering the drug at Barts imply that the drug will be given to patients for five days at a time.
They also reveal fears about its long- term availability.
An argument has exploded in the French medical community recently after a leading cardiologist claimed that the drug had damaged the hearts of 54 coronavirus patients, four of whom died.
And early signs of whether a British coronavirus vaccine works – or doesn’t – may be only weeks away, a leading expert has said. Stock picture
Now Professor Peter Openshaw, who has advised the Government on vaccines and is vice chair of its virus advisory group Nervtag, says signs as to whether her jab works should become clear very soon.
Prof Gilbert’s team at Oxford’s Jenner Institute is just about to begin testing the vaccine in a six-month trial of 510 volunteers in the Thames Valley region.
But Prof Openshaw said researchers would not have to wait six months for confirmation, saying: ‘We could see a signal very quickly. I do earnestly hope that in the next few weeks they get a positive signal.’
Half those in the trial will get the Oxford vaccine and half a ‘dummy’ jab. If it works, none of those who get the real vaccine – or very, very few – will develop Covid-19. By contrast, some of those who get the placebo would be expected to become infected and have symptoms.
Prof Openshaw said it was ‘astonishing just what progress Sarah [Gilbert] has made’ so far, adding: ‘She’s the woman who can deliver a vaccine’.
Professor Sarah Gilbert said yesterday she was ’80 per cent confident’ a vaccine that her team is developing at Oxford University would be effective, and that it could be ready by September
But he stressed that she was ‘very methodical’ and was ‘not going to rush forward [claiming it works] until there’s a trial that shows the vaccine prevents people from getting ill.’
He insisted that talks should start now on manufacturing large stocks of the vaccine. ‘There has to be investment in making the vaccine before they know the full results of the trial,’ he said.
‘If someone is prepared to put money upfront and say, ‘Just in case this works, let’s make millions of doses on spec’, then we might have it ready by the autumn. To my mind, with the situation we are in, where trillions of pounds are at stake because of the impact of coronavirus on the economy, we have to invest now to make a lot of vaccine, even if it’s never used.’
Ironically, the success of Britain’s lockdown could mean it takes longer to tell if the vaccine works, according to experts, as there will be less of the virus circulating.
Hydroxychloroquine is a synthetic compound that was created 75 years ago as an alternative to quinine as malaria treatment.
St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and the Royal Devon and Exeter have started handing out hydroxychloroquine in a bid to keep seriously-ill Covid-19 patients alive
It is also used to treat chronic inflammatory illnesses such as lupus and theumatoid arthritis.
While the Chinese medical authorities have recommended its use they have not released supporting data to back up its effectiveness.
Mr Trump has been criticised for publicly endorsing the drug in the absence of systematic evidence. ‘What have you got to lose? Take it,’ he urged last weekend, while boasting that the US had access to 29million doses.
A trial of hydroxychloroquine began in the US on Thursday, overseen by the National Institutes of Health.
A spokesman for Barts said: ‘Barts Health NHS Trust has convened an expert clinical group to consider novel medications in the treatment of Covid-19.
‘The evidence base is limited for all such drugs and we are actively recruiting patients to major clinical trials that have been prioritised by the Dept of Health and Social Care.
‘These include hydroxychloroquine, kaletra, steroids and remdesivir.’
He added: ‘For a small number of carefully selected patients, we have recommended some novel therapies for immediate use, including immunomodulatory drugs such as tocilizumab.’
A spokesman for the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust said patients would be selected at random by computer for participation in the hydroxychloroquine trial.