The health secretary has hailed a drug which speeds up a Covid-19 patient’s recovery time as “probably the biggest step forward in the treatment of coronavirus since the crisis began”.
Matt Hancock announced the drug remdesivir will be made available on the NHS after early data from clinical trials showed it reduces recovery time for hospital patients from 15 to 11 days.
Remdesivir was given emergency authorisation in Japan and the US earlier this month and UK regulators have followed suit by authorising use of the anti-viral medicine here.
The scheme provides access to promising new unlicensed medicines where there are no other options to treat patients and means doctors can now prescribe remedesivir outside of the trials – which “effectively gives the treatment a form of provisional licence because there are no other drugs which fit the bill”, reports the Telegraph.
Important for management of the pandemic
Announcing “probably the biggest step forward in the treatment” of the virus during today’s Downing Street coronavirus press briefing, Hancock said: “These are very early steps but we are determined to support the science and back the projects that show promise.”
The news is “welcome indeed” said Dr Stephen Griffin, an associate professor at University of Leeds’ School of Medicine. “It will likely mean that the most severe patients will receive it first. It is a welcome boost to the current repertoire of Covid-19 therapies, and it could be important for the longer-term management of the pandemic.”
Allocation will be based on doctors’ advice and administered to those most likely to benefit from it, says a report on the BBC website, which adds: “It is not clear how much stock pharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences has available to treat UK patients.”
‘Approval is not a recommendation for use’
Remedesivir is an anti-viral medicine administered intravenously and is designed to block the enzyme that the virus uses to replicate in the cells of an infected person.
The drug has been used against Ebola and the global study into its effectiveness to treat Covid-19 has involved more than 1,000 hospital patients in numerous countries including the US, China, France, Italy and the UK.
“The amount of evidence on remedesivir’s efficacy and safety is still limited and it’s possible it will not become [fully] licensed,” said professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Stephen Evans.
“It is also not a recommendation for use. But it does allow clinicians to use the medicine outside one of the ongoing randomised trials without fear of it being regarded as bad practice.”
The professor said the drug probably works best when administered early in the course of the disease but said evidence it can reduce mortality is “not completely convincing”.
“But with more trials being conducted around the world, as well as in the UK, such evidence may be obtained soon,” he said.
‘Expert scientific advice is at the heart of every decision we make’ – Minister
The minister for innovation Lord Bethell said: “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.”
He added: “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.”