The drugs on trial that may be the key to defeating the coronavirus

Tom Clarke

Former Science Editor

  • Video report by ITV News Science Editor Tom Clarke

It takes time to develop totally new drugs to treat totally new diseases. But people in intensive care with Covid-19 don’t have time.

It’s why in hospitals around the world doctors have been experimenting with existing medicines that might have an effect on Covid-19.

But to get an accurate picture of which ones might offer the most benefit to the most people, the medical community needs to work together.

And that’s exactly where the Randomised Evaluation of COVid-19 thERapY (RECOVERY) trial comes in.

How many coronavirus trials are there and how do they work?

Its organisers claim it is the largest trial in the world of potential treatments for Covid-19 and should give evidence within weeks of treatments that are showing the greatest promise.

“The aim is to recruit everybody who goes to hospital with Covid-19 infection,” says Prof Martin Landray of the University of Oxford, who is overseeing the trial.

“The sooner we recruit large numbers of people the sooner we’ll have answers.”

They’re not doing badly so far. In the 16 days since the trial was launched, they’ve enrolled more than 2,000 patients in 149 participating hospitals.

Drugs to treat Covid-19 are being trialled. Credit: PA

The trial has selected several drugs that they have reason to believe may work against Covid-19.

The most publicised is an anti-malaria medicine called hydroxychloroquine.

It appears to fight malaria by making the inside of the body’s cells more acidic and less hospitable to the parasite. Some people believe this may also make it harder for viruses to reproduce in cells too.

Then there’s Lopinavir-Ritonavir a pair of antiviral drugs used in combination to treat HIV.

The trial includes drugs that there is reason to believe could work. Credit: PA

These medicines hijack the ability of retroviruses (SARS-CoV-2 belongs to this virus family, like HIV) to reproduce in cells.

They want to see if inhaling a naturally occurring protein called interferon has an effect on the lungs. Interferon is like a chemical alarm call released by our cells when they’re infected by viruses.

“We’re not expecting miracles here,” says Prof Landray.

“This is a new virus and the effects of treatments we currently have are likely to be modest, but in a condition that effects millions of people worldwide even a modest effect to make a colossal difference.”

  • You can find out more about the Recovery Trial on their website

  • A real time tracker of the number of patients and hospitals who are taking part in the Recovery drug treatments is available here

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