Coronavirus drug: British patients join the search for cure

Remdesivir has been hailed as a frontrunner in the search for an effective treatment for the virus. Around 150 patients will be recruited at NHS centres in England and Scotland, to help collect the vital data needed for the drug to be approved. Developed by Gilead Sciences, it is being trialled in 15 countries. Phase three UK trials will be overseen by Dr Andrew Ustianowsik, a consultant at North Manchester General Hospital. He said: “I think this drug is promising in the laboratory, and we’re hopeful it will be as promising in humans.

“I’m hopeful, but we do need studies such as this to work out how well it works and how best to use it.”

Some 50 patients with moderate illness and 100 who are severely ill will be recruited. They will receive either standard care or a five or 10-day course of treatment to determine which is most effective.

Remdesivir has been in development for more than a decade and shown promise in animal trials for past coronaviruses SARS and MERS. It was also used to treat patients with Ebola, although other drugs proved more effective.

The drug has been given to more than 1,000 patients in the US, China and Italy on compassionate grounds, with promising results.

Julian Cole, associate director of medical affairs at Gilead, said: “There’s still some work to do in terms of the clinical trials, but this does look promising.

“The important thing is getting these trials done as broadly as possible. It’s part of a network of studies, this global effort to find out what works best in Covid-19.”

Meanwhile, a team in Oxford is using artificial intelligence to screen more than 15,000 existing drugs to see if they could treat coronavirus.

AI drug discovery firm Exscientia hopes to discover a medicine that can be repurposed within the next six to 12 months.

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