Health Secretary Matt Hancock revealed today that one of six drugs being trialled to tackle coronavirus in the UK is being tested on patients.
Though the Department of Health didn’t name the drug being pushed to the second phase of testing, they did reveal that compounds Bemcetinib, MEDI3506 and Acalabrutinib are being looked at to treat the virus.
Bemcetinib is an experimental cancer drug currently undergoing trials, while MEDI3506 is used against both solid and blood cancers.
Meanwhile, Acalabrutinib is a medication used to treat a type of non-Hodgkin lymphoma known as mantle cell lymphoma.
The ‘rapidly’ scaled-up national initiative will accelerate the development of new drugs for patients hospitalised with COVID-19, reducing the time taken to set up clinical studies for new therapies from months to just weeks and helping to ease pressure on the NHS.
Six potential drugs will initially enter the programme, with the first of these beginning Phase 2 studies across the UK imminently.
Phase 2 studies focus on the testing of a drug on patients to assess how effective it is, while working out its side effects.
Doctors are scrambling to find a treatment that can help cure or slow down the disease, which has killed more than 21,000 people in Britain.
Repurposing one which is already used to treat another illness would be the best way to do this because it saves time on clinical trials and licensing.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that one drug being trialled is showing promising enough results for it to be moved to the next phase of testing
WHAT ARE THE THREE MAIN CORONAVIRUS TRIALS IN THE UK?
The Principle trial is studying people aged 50 to 64 who have COVID-19 symptoms and a chronic health condition such as heart disease, asthma or cancer.
It is unclear how many patients are taking part.
It is also open to those aged 65 or over, with or without other illnesses.
The first drug that will be trialled is hydroxychloroquine, sold as Plaquenil. Other potential treatments will be used if they show promise in pre-clinical studies.
The study is being run at the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) Research and Surveillance Centre (RSC) in Surrey.
It will last until March next year.
The Randomised Evaluation of COV-id19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial is being run by the University of Oxford.
It will test the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir, marketed as Kaletra and Aluvia, hydroxychloroquine, a malaria medication sold as Plaquenil, and dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation.
Almost 1,000 patients from 132 different hospitals have been already recruited in just 15 days.
Thousands more are expected to join the trial in the coming weeks, making it the largest randomised controlled trial of potential COVID-19 treatments in the world.
Definitive results on whether the treatments are safe and effective are expected within months and, if positive, they could potentially benefit hundreds of thousands of people worldwide.
The REMAP-CAP trial is an international effort, with more than 50 research teams around the world taking part.
It is looking specifically at patients who develop community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) as a result of viral infections.
The study will test 16 drugs, including hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon beta, which have all shown promise in pre-clinical trials.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 patients will be enrolled.
Speaking at this afternoon’s coronavirus briefing, Mr Hancock said scientists working in the UK had found a number of ‘promising candidates’.
He said: ‘Currently, six different treatments have been entered into national clinical trials and the first is ready to enter the next stage, a new early-phase clinical trial platform that we’re launching today.’
Funded by the Department of Health and UK Research and Innovation, the programme – known as the ACCORD (Accelerating COVID-19 Research & Development platform) – aims to get an early indication of drug treatments’ effectiveness in treating coronavirus.
If positive results are seen, these drugs will advance rapidly into the large-scale trials currently in progress across the country.
Further potential treatments will be rapidly fed into ACCORD as the programme rolls out over the next few weeks.
Early hopes for treatments included a lupus and rheumatoid arthritis drug called hydroxychloroquine and an antiviral designed for Ebola called remdesivir.
Trials on those two have so far returned mixed results but countries around the world continue to test them under the guidance of the World Health Organization.
Hydroxycholoroquine is being tested in the UK in three studies.
One is a study being run by the Royal College of General Practitioners for patients aged over 50 who develop COVID-19 symptoms.
It is being done on an unknown number of people, of whom the under-65s will all have to have a long-term health condition such as asthma or heart disease to qualify.
Another trial, named RECOVERY, will test hydroxychloroquine as well as others such as the HIV drug lopinavir/ritonavir, and a steroid called dexamethasone, on thousands of patients from more than 100 different NHS hospitals.
The RECOVERY trial, run by the University of Oxford, is the UK’s largest so far and results could be returned within months.
Britain’s third main trial, named REMAP-CAP, is part of an international effort which will study people who develop pneumonia after catching the coronavirus. It will test 16 drugs on those patients, among them hydroxychloroquine and lopinavir/ritonavir.
Another clinical trial being done in NHS hospitals is not testing medication, per se, but examining whether COVID-19 patients could benefit from being injected with immune cells taken from patients who have already recovered from the virus.
The blood plasma therapy trial is being carried out with the help of the NHS Blood & Transplant service and involves collecting immune cells from people who have recovered, and making a sterilised treatment to give to people who are currently ill.
The treatment, known as convalescent plasma, has been around in principle for over 100 years and may work by boosting the patient’s immune system.
Doctors are scrambling to find a treatment that can help cure or slow down the disease which has ravaged Britain
Repurposing drugs which are already used to treat other illnesses would be best because it saves time on clinical trials and licensing
An drug designed to battle Ebola, called remdesivir, had been slated as a promising option but was last week reported to have failed its first clinical trial in China. Results for patients taking it appear to be mixed.
Documents published by accident by the World Health Organization suggested the trial had not worked just days after one in Chicago said it eased patients’ symptoms and helped them to leave hospital sooner.
Trials in the UK were announced by the manufacturer, Gilead, at the start of this month and are taking place across 15 medical clinics in the UK.
In another announcement about medications today, Mr Hancock said the Government would relax the laws on medicine-sharing in care homes.
He said staff in nursing and residential homes would now be able to use spare drugs prescribed to treat a resident for whom they were not initially prescribed in certain circumstances, if they were otherwise going to be thrown away.
He said this would help the homes ‘make best possible use’ of drug supplies.
Mr Hancock also announced that routine coronavirus swab testing will now be available for everyone working or living in a care home or hospital, regardless of whether they have symptoms of COVID-19.
And tests will also be available to anyone over the age of 65 who has a high temperature or a new cough, and to people who live with them.
WHAT VACCINE CANDIDATES HAS THE UK PRODUCED?
Vaccine candidates produced by the University of Oxford and Imperial College London are in the late stages of development. The Oxford vaccine has already gone into human trials and Imperial College’s are set to start in June.
The science behind both vaccine attempts hinges on recreating the ‘spike’ proteins that are found all over the outside of the COVID-19 viruses.
Both will attempt to recreate or mimic these spikes inside the body. The difference between the two is how they achieve this effect.
Imperial College London will try to deliver genetic material (RNA) from the coronavirus which programs cells inside the patient’s body to recreate the spike proteins. It will transport the RNA inside liquid droplets injected into the bloodstream.
The team at the University of Oxford, on the other hand, will genetically engineer a virus to look like the coronavirus – to have the same spike proteins on the outside – but be unable to cause any infection inside a person.
This virus, weakened by genetic engineering, is a type of virus called an adenovirus, the same as those which cause common colds, that has been taken from chimpanzees.
If the vaccines can successfully mimic the spikes inside a person’s bloodstream, and stimulate the immune system to create special antibodies to attack it, this could train the body to destroy the real coronavirus if they get infected with it in future.
The same process is thought to happen in people who catch COVID-19 for real, but this is far more dangerous – a vaccine will have the same end-point but without causing illness in the process.