The world’s biggest trial of drugs to treat COVID-19 patients has been set up in the UK at unprecedented speed, and hopes to have some answers within weeks.
The Recovery trial has recruited over 5,000 patients in 165 NHS hospitals around the UK in a month, ahead of similar trials in the US and Europe, which have a few hundred.
“This is by far the largest trial in the world,” said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at Oxford University, who is leading it. He has previously led Ebola drug trials the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The Recovery team expects to be the first to have definitive data. “We’re guessing some time in June we may get the results,” said Prof Horby. “If it is really clear that there are benefits, an answer will be available quicker.” But he warned that in the case of COVID-19, there would be no “magic bullet”.
The team is working against a backdrop of doctors globally using drugs that they believe could be a cure citing “compassionate use”, without yet having good scientific evidence. Politicians are also wading in. Donald Trump has backed hydroxychloroquine, a less toxic form of the old anti-malaria drug chloroquine.
Used together with azithromycin, an antibiotic, it could be “one of the biggest game-changers in the history of medicine”, Trump tweeted. The French doctor Didier Raoult has claimed the combination is a cure, leading to public clamour for the drugs in France. President Macron visited Raoult’s hospital in Marseille last week, giving him tentative support but suggesting that trials were needed.
Both hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are being tested separately as part of the Recovery trial, and if there is any effect in patients given those drugs alone, compared with those given no drugs, they can be combined later.
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