The Government has 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’.
Used alone or in combination, the Government hopes the antivirals will also help stop mutations of Covid-19 from developing.
It did not mention any specific antivirals that it had in mind but Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the ‘success of our vaccination programme’ had ‘demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds’.
He said: ‘Our new Antivirals Taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments you can take at home to stop Covid-19 in its tracks. These could provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives.’
Health secretary Matt Hancock said: ‘The UK is leading the world in finding and rolling out effective treatments for COVID-19, having identified dexamethasone, which has saved over a million lives worldwide, and tocilizumab.
‘In combination with our fantastic vaccination programme, medicines are a vital weapon to protect our loved ones from this terrible virus.
‘Modelled on the success of the vaccines and therapeutics taskforces, which have played a crucial part in our response to the pandemic, we are now bringing together a new team that will supercharge the search for antiviral treatments and roll them out as soon as the Autumn.’
Government chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance said: ‘The speed at which vaccines and therapeutics such as dexamethasone have been identified and deployed against Covid-19 has been critical to the pandemic response.
‘Antivirals in tablet form are another key tool for the response. They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines. They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern.
‘The taskforce will help ensure the most promising antivirals are available for deployment as quickly as possible.’
It comes as the UK primary care study into community treatments for Covid-19 has so far only been able to recommend the use of budesonide inhalers.
The Government said last week that GPs can prescribe budesonide inhalers as a Covid treatment ‘on a case-by-case basis’ although it is not ‘at this point in time’ being ‘recommended for routine use’.
In June, the Government-funded RECOVERY trial became the first to identify the benefits of dexamethasone in reducing mortality by 20% in hospitalised patients requiring oxygen support and 35% for ventilated patients.