Coronavirus: NHS to treat severe COVID-19 patients with Ebola drug to speed up recovery

Some NHS patients with severe coronavirus symptoms will be treated with an Ebola drug after trials proved it led to a quicker recovery.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the development as the “biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began” on Tuesday.

The antiviral medicine remdesivir was developed for Ebola, but initial trials on COVID-19 patients showed it reduced the length of time they experienced symptoms from 15 days to 11.

It will now be prescribed for some adults and teenagers suffering serious coronavirus symptoms in NHS hospitals, having been given the green light as part of the the Early Access to Medicines Scheme.

Lab technicians load filled vials of investigational coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment drug remdesivir at a Gilead Sciences facility in La Verne, California, U.S. March 18, 2020. Pic: Gilead Sciences

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The drug has been trialled by Gilead Sciences in the US. Pic: Gilead Sciences

The scheme, launched by the UK government in 2014, tries to make certain drugs available for the seriously ill before they have market authorisation.

Mr Hancock said during the Downing Street daily briefing on Tuesday: “Today I can announce we are beginning a new trial for selected NHS patients of an antiviral drug called remdesivir.

“There have already been some promising results on coronavirus patients, with early data suggesting it can shorten recovery time by around four days.

“As you can understand, we’ll be prioritising the use of this treatment where it will provide the greatest benefit.

“This is probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began.”

The Department for Health and Social Care worked with pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, the NHS, and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency to clear remdesivir for use in the UK, a government spokesman said.

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It has already been made available under similar initiatives in the US and Japan, following trials on 1,000 patients from the UK, USA, France, Italy and China earlier this month.

President Donald Trump has said the US government is putting its “full power and might” behind remdesivir.

Mr Trump has promoted a number of existing disease treatments as possible options for coronavirus patients, most notably the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine.

He has been criticised for taking the drug in a bid to ward off the virus, with the World Health Organisation having stopped trialling the treatment over fears it could cause more deaths in COVID-19 patients.

Innovation minister Lord Bethell said of the remdesivir decision: “This shows fantastic progress.

“As we navigate this unprecedented period, we must be on the front foot of the latest medical advancements, while always ensuring patient safety remains a top priority.

“The latest expert scientific advice is at the heart of every decision we make, and we will continue to monitor remdesivir’s success in clinical trials across the country to ensure the best results for UK patients.”

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