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Covid-19 drug trial progress welcomed but treatment is 'still at early stage,' says Chief Scientific Officer

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Trials: Dr Anthony Fauci

Trials: Dr Anthony Fauci

AFP via Getty Images

Trials: Dr Anthony Fauci

Trials of a drug to treat coronavirus have been "very positive" but are still at an early stage, Stormont's chief scientific officer has said.

Speaking at the daily Executive briefing, Professor Ian Young welcomed progress on trials of Remdesivir around the world.

The antiviral drug was originally developed to treat Ebola, and works by attacking an enzyme that viruses need to survive.

US officials have reported that it has cut recovery time for Covid-19 from 15 to 11 days.

While it may aid recovery for patients, it is not a vaccine, which will still take a considerable amount of time to develop and produce.

If Remdesivir is proven reliable, it could reduce the need for patients to go to intensive care and take pressure off hospitals.

Professor Young commented yesterday: "There is considerable work going on globally around a variety of novel treatments which may help to reduce complications of Covid infection.

"We've heard in the last couple of days about some very positive results about Remdesivir, certainly in terms of reducing the terms of infection, and we're waiting for fuller data on that to be published."

He explained that patients across the UK had been given access to the drug in clinical trials taking place in hospitals and intensive care units.

"All of those trials have been opened in Northern Ireland. There are a wide variety of drugs which are being tested and tried in the context of those trials," he said. "As many of our patients as possible will be offered the opportunity to try those experimental treatments.

"The Remdesivir results sound positive but it's still at an early stage and supplies and access to that particular agent are extremely limited at present, but there are a number of other drugs which are much more readily available where we expect to have results in the next few weeks."

On Wednesday, the US's top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said the latest trial showed the drug has "a clear-cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery".

There have been conflicting reports, however, with medical journal The Lancet publishing a report from China which found the drug was not effective.

It has been argued, though, that the Chinese trial was incomplete as the success of lockdown meant there were not enough patients to treat.

There is still uncertainty on whether Remdesivir can actually reduce death rates, with 8% of those given the drug in the US trial dying compared to 11.6% who received a placebo. Professor Mahesh Parmar from UCL, who has overseen the trial in the EU, said there were still many steps before the drug would be made widely available.

"The data and results need to be reviewed by the regulators to assess whether the drug can be licensed and then they need assessment by the relevant health authorities in various countries," he told the BBC.

"While this is happening we will obtain more and longer-term data from this trial, and other ones, on whether the drug also prevents deaths from Covid-19."

Professor Peter Horby from Oxford University is running the world's largest trials on Covid-19 drugs.

"We need to see the full results, but if confirmed this would be a fantastic result and great news for the fight against Covid-19," he said.

"The next steps are to get the full data out and work on equitable access to Remdesivir."

Belfast Telegraph