A new Antivirals Taskforce has been launched by the government to identify treatments for UK patients who have been exposed to COVID-19 to stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time.
The taskforce will search for the most promising novel antiviral medicines that can be taken at home and support their development through clinical trials to ensure they can be rapidly rolled out to patients as early as the autumn.
The aim is to have at least 2 effective treatments this year, either in a tablet or capsule form, that the public can take at home following a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to someone with the virus. The taskforce will also look at opportunities to onshore the manufacture of antiviral treatments.
The drugs will be another vital tool to combat any future increase in infections and limit the impact of new variants, especially over the flu season later this year.
Sir Patrick Vallance, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, 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.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said: “The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.
“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 and Social Care 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.
“I am committed to boosting the UK’s position as a life science superpower and this new taskforce will help us beat COVID-19 and build back better.
“The antivirals could be used alone or in combination with one another in order to increase effectiveness and reduce the risk of further mutations. The new taskforce will sit alongside the government’s existing Therapeutics Taskforce, which will continue its vital work to identify and supply treatments found to be effective in clinical trials, for all stages of a patient’s exposure and response to COVID-19.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, the UK has proven itself to be a world-leader in identifying and rolling out effective treatments for COVID-19 – including the world’s first treatment dexamethasone, which has since saved 22,000 lives in the UK so far and an estimated million worldwide.
“The UK’s renowned life sciences sector makes it the ideal base for the brightest of global innovators to research and progress cutting-edge treatments for COVID-19 through the clinical trials process here in Britain.”