World’s largest randomized trial on COVID-19 treatments launched

TORONTO — The world’s largest randomised, controlled clinical trial looking at a range of potential treatments for adults hospitalized due to COVID-19 is being launched in the U.K. with more than 5,400 patients from over 165 hospitals.

There are currently no proven treatments for COVID-19, which has killed more than 145,000 people worldwide so far, but hospitals around the world have been experimenting with a number of different drugs as researchers scramble to develop a vaccine, conduct antibody testing and explore different possible therapies such as using plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients.

The RECOVERY Trial (Randomised Evaluation of COVID-19 Therapy) aims to gather reliable clinical trials data on some of the more common treatments currently being used globally, with the hope that answers can be determined on the safety and effectiveness of these treatment options.

Drugs including Lopinavir-Ritonavir, commonly used to treat HIV, the steroid dexamethasone, typically used to treat inflammation, anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine, and the antibiotic azithromycin are among the more popular medications used, even though reliable data on their efficacy does not yet exist. The RECOVERY Trial, one of several major ones being conducted, aims to fill that critical gap.

Hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin made headlines last month after U.S. president Donald Trump tweeted about the drugs, touting their potential to be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” despite the lack of scientific evidence.

Doctors have cautioned the public not to self-medicate, however, warning that drugs like hydroxychloroquine can have dangerous side-effects. Trump’s unproven claims have also caused a shortage of hydroxychloroquine for patients suffering from other diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

“The RECOVERY trial will provide much-needed evidence on the best care for patients with COVID-19,” Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases and Global Health in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, said in a statement earlier this month. Horby is leading the trials.

“The more patients that are enrolled, the sooner we will know how best to treat this disease.”

The trial is supported by chief medical officers across the country, and is financially backed by a grant to the University of Oxford from the U.K. Research and Innovation/National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and several other organizations.

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