This site is intended for health professionals only


First antiviral added to primary care Covid treatment trial

Patient holding medication


An antiviral drug used to treat flu has been added to the University of Oxford’s Government-funded research trial into primary care Covid treatments.

The addition of favipiravir to the PRINCIPE trial – the first antiviral drug to be included – comes days after the Government launched its bid to identify at-home antiviral treatments for Covid by autumn.

GPs can refer patients to participate in the trial of the study, which has been licensed to treat flu in Japan since 2014.

Anyone in the UK experiencing Covid symptoms for less than 15 days aged over 65; aged 50-64 with certain underlying health conditions; or aged 18 or over with breathlessness associated with Covid-19 is eligible to take part.

Participants will be tested to see whether five days of twice-daily doses of favipiravir, when prescribed within 14 days of illness with Covid, both speeds up their recovery and prevents hospitalisation.

This is the first antiviral drug trialled by PRINCIPLE, according to its joint chief investigator and South Wales GP Professor Chris Butler.

Professor Butler further explained that favipiravir works by blocking the interaction between a virus and human cells when the virus is replicating.

‘Until now, we have been testing medicines that have not typically been used to treat viral infections. This is the first drug we will be testing that was designed specifically to target viruses, so we are particularly excited to be including favipiravir in the PRINCIPLE trial to determine whether it could be used in the community as a Covid-19 treatment and prevent people from getting very sick,’ he added.

Earlier this week, the Government launched a bid to identify antiviral drugs that patients can take at home when they have been diagnosed with, or exposed to, Covid.

It said an ‘antivirals taskforce’ will search for the ‘most promising’ novel antiviral medicines and support their development through clinical trials so they can be rolled out as early as the autumn.

In a bid to stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time, the Government wants to have at least two effective treatments this year ‘either in tablet or capsule form’.

So far, the only drug to be recommended for GP use from the PRINCIPLE trial is budesonide, which can be prescribed by GPs as a Covid treatment ‘on a case-by-case basis’, and has been shown to reduce recovery time by an average of three days.

However, NHS England said yesterday that GPs will be expected to prescribe the asthma drug to a ‘very limited’ number of Covid patients.

It followed the news that antibiotics azithromycin and doxycycline were removed from the trial in January after researchers found they were ‘not generally effective’.