London: Scientists from the University of Oxford are starting a first-of-its-kind study to see whether available drugs can help keep older, more vulnerable people with mild cases of Covid-19 from becoming severely ill.
More than 500 U.K. doctors’ offices are recruiting for the trial of drugs that are already approved for other purposes, such as the antimalarial hydroxychloroquine and antibiotics that are normally used against bacterial infections. Participants must be older than 65 or aged 50 to 64 with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or asthma.
Researchers have launched more than 100 different programs globally to develop and test treatments for coronavirus as countries seek ways to quell the pandemic and safely exit lockdowns. Among them is Gilead Sciences Inc.’s remdesivir, a drug developed to treat Ebola virus that recently showed utility against Covid-19 in a late-stage trial.
Hydroxychloroquine has long been backed by U.S. President Donald Trump as a potential treatment for Covid-19, and the country has secured millions of doses to distribute to states. U.S. drug regulators have cleared it for emergency use in patients with low oxygen levels or who need help breathing.
The Oxford study is the first of primary-care treatment for Covid-19, according to a statement from the university. In the first phase of the trial, called Principle, researchers will test whether a seven-day course of hydroxychloroquine can reduce serious symptoms in vulnerable groups. The antibiotic azithromycin will also be tested. Participants’ symptoms must include a new or continuous cough, a high temperature for less than 15 days, or both.
“As soon as we find that any one of the drugs in our trial is making a critical difference to people’s health, we want it to be part of clinical practice as soon as it can be introduced,” said Chris Butler, the chief investigator on the trial and professor of primary care in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences.