First look at how a potential antiviral drug could help those most vulnerable to Covid

In an exclusive first look at a study for Covid antiviral Molnupiravir, trial investigator Dr Dennis Hadjiyiannakis explained how the drug could help patients

The first UK patients have tried an antiviral Covid-19 drug that could offer a glimmer of hope in the challenging winter months ahead.

On a day when more than 50,000 UK coronavirus cases were reported for the first time since July, the first cohort of people took a new antiviral that is tipped as a potentially significant treatment.

ITV News gained access to Royal Preston Hospital to take a look at how the drug works and how it is administered to patients with early onset Covid-19 as part of a research study.

Antivirals are used to either treat people infected with a virus or to protect exposed individuals from becoming infected.

Molnupiravir has so far shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospital admission or death for at-risk adults with mild to moderate Covid-19 by 50%, according to the Department of Health (DHSC).

The trial, funded by the DHSC, is running throughout the country and scientists are hoping to recruit 180 patients who have a positive Covid-19 swab.

Dr. Dennis Hadjiyiannakis, medical director for the Lancashire Clinical Research Facility, told ITV News experts hope to complete the trial within two months.

If it receives approval from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulator Agency (MHRA), experts hope to have it can be rolled out to patients before December.

How does the drug work and how is it taken?

Molnupiravir is a tablet which is taken two times for five days a day by people who have tested positive for coronavirus.

Dr Hadjiyiannakis explained: "It causes the virus to over mutate, cause more mutations in its genetic material and therefore kill itself."

"We are looking at patients who have Covid-19 but have early illness, so they do not need hospital admission," he added.

"We are hoping that the tablet would kill the virus, thereby... avoiding the need for hospitalisation or sick health."

But he warned that if the antiviral is approved, it "is not an excuse for people not to get vaccinated".

"The battle against Covid-19 is multi-faceted and has to have vaccines, as well as these tablets, as well as some of the other medications that have been approved," added Dr Hadjiyiannakis.

Tai Chung Lam was one of the first patients in the UK to take the tablets in Preston on Thursday, after being diagnosed with Covid-19.

Tai Chung Lam, one of the first patients to try Molnupiravir, said he hoped his involvement in the trial would help others suffering with Covid-19

He said he wanted to put himself forward not only to treat his own infection, but to help others overcome the illness.

"This is the only way that I can be accessible to some effective treatment for my Covid condition," Mr Lam told ITV News.

"I hope more people can get access to this trial. I think it's very important because only through a clinical trial we can get the new knowledge on how to treat the disease."

The DHSC said 480,000 courses of Molnupiravir, made by pharmaceutical company Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD) have been secured.

It has also struck a deal for 250,000 courses of Pfizer’s antiviral PF-07321332/ritonavir, which is at the beginning of its phase three trials.

Work is under way to look at how to deploy the treatments, with making them available from pharmacies understood to be one option under consideration.

England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam said antivirals “bring another key intervention to the table”. He said: “They will be particularly vital in protecting those who may not get the same antibody response to the vaccines as the majority of the population."