Coronavirus capsules or tablets designed to treat Covid-19 at home could be ready as soon as autumn, the government has announced.
Boris Johnson said he's launched a new Antivirals Taskforce to identify treatments for people exposed to the virus, which it is hoped could stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time.
It is hoped at least two effective treatments in "either in a tablet or capsule form" will be available this year.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he hopes the government can "roll them out as soon as the autumn".
Working in a similar way to the Vaccines Taskforce, the antivirals team will "search for the most promising" home treatments and "support their development through clinical trials to ensure they can be rapidly rolled out" as soon as possible.
Speaking at Downing Street press conference alongside the PM, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England Nikki Konani said new treatments can be developed quickly, adding that the taskforce provides an opportunity to "ramp up pace on the use of anti-virals".
The PM also gave an update on the UK's vaccination efforts, announcing 60% of 45 to 49 year olds had now had their first jab.
And more than 19 in 20 second jab appointments have been fulfilled.
Prime Minister Johnson said: “The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.
“Our new Antivirals Taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments you can take at home to stop Covid-19 in its tracks. These could provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives.”
He said experts "firmly" hold the view that there will be another wave of coronavirus later this year, and it is hoped home treatments can be developed to tackle it.
Since the start of the pandemic, a number of treatments have been discovered, including dexamethasone which is estimated to have saved 22,000 lives in the UK and an estimated million worldwide.
The UK was the first country to find the drug can reduce mortality by 20% in patients requiring oxygen support and 35% for ventilated patients.
It was also found that the drug tocilizumab reduced the relative risk of death for patients on oxygen by 14%, when administered in addition to dexamethasone.
These treatments are currently used in hospitals, but it is expected the taskforce will explore whether they could also be used at home.
Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said: “The speed at which vaccines and therapeutics such as dexamethasone have been identified and deployed against Covid-19 has been critical to the pandemic response.
“Antivirals in tablet form are another key tool for the response. They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines. They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern."
The Department for Health and Social Care says treatments could be used alone or in combination with one another "to increase effectiveness and reduce the risk of further mutations".
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The new taskforce will sit alongside the Therapeutics Taskforce, which will continue its work identifying and supplying treatments for all stages of a patient’s exposure and response to Covid-19.
Health Secretary Hancock said: "In combination with our fantastic vaccination programme, medicines are a vital weapon to protect our loved ones from this terrible virus.
“Modelled on the success of the vaccines and therapeutics taskforces, which have played a crucial part in our response to the pandemic, we are now bringing together a new team that will supercharge the search for antiviral treatments and roll them out as soon as the autumn.
“I am committed to boosting the UK’s position as a life science superpower and this new taskforce will help us beat COVID-19 and build back better.”
ITV News Health Editor Emily Morgan says the autumn target is "ambitious":
The government's ambition to find an antiviral drug to treat Covid -19 by autumn is hugely optimistic.
Antivirals are nothing new, they are used to treat many viral infections likes HIV and Hepatitis but sadly very few developed for one virus work for another.
That said, trials have been taking place to see whether any current antivirals can be repurposed and work against Covid.
But so far none have any proven effect.
Pharmaceuticals are working at speed to develop new antiviral treatments that do work.
The government's new Antivirals Taskforce has been set up to help find new treatments and get them to us as soon as possible - in fact they're hoping to make two treatments available by autumn.
Unless there are two treatments they have in mind, already in trials and known to work, an autumn target is ambitious.
Of course, we should welcome this new taskforce.
The Vaccine Taskforce was hugely successful but whether we get any drugs to treat coronavirus at home is in the hands of the scientists who are trying as hard they might to develop them.
Watch Boris Johnson's press conference in full: