The race to find a treatment is on.
Several potential treatments have already shown some promise in treating COVID-19. But until we have major clinical trials that follow the best scientific standards, we won't really know for sure.
Clinical trials take a long time to set up, which is what makes the RECOVERY trial so interesting. Already, 1,000 patients from over 100 hospitals have been recruited in just over two weeks, and thousands more are expected to join in the coming weeks.
This could produce results much quicker than is usually the case with this type of research.
"The astonishing thing about the RECOVERY trial is the speed with which it got off the ground, from the initial agreement being received from the Department of Health and Social Care it was just nine days before the first patient was recruited. That process would usually take between six and nine months.," said Professor Thomas Jaki from Lancaster University, who has published encouraging results from a separate clinical trial.
Doctors are now working on devising protocols to inform patients about enrolling in the trial. The trial is being coordinated by researchers at the University of Oxford, led by Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, and Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health.
The trial is testing a number of medicines recommended by an expert panel advising the Chief Medical Officer for England. They include:
- Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV;
- Dexamethasone, a type of steroid use in a range of conditions to reduce inflammation;
- Hydroxychloroquine, a treatment for malaria.
This is far from being the only large scale clinical trial for finding treatments on COVID-19. The scientific community has shown remarkable speed and ability to coordinate, and several such efforts are already underway, including an international mega-trial coordinated by the World Health Organization focused on four promising potential treatments, including lopinavir-ritonavir.
For now, it will be a while before the results start coming. Clinical validation takes a long time, but only after this type of trial can we know for sure what treatments are truly effective -- and we've already seen what type of problems can emerge when you take treatments haphazardly.