The government has published its COVID-19 recovery strategy, ‘Our plan to rebuild’, setting out a series of phases as part of this plan. Phase three recognises the critical importance of accelerating the development of an effective vaccine or treatments.
Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, the Society's President, said:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, regulators such as the MHRA, and funders such as NIHR and UKRI, have acted quickly to safely expedite trials. The government’s continued commitment to get safe and effective treatments to COVID-19 patients is welcome.
The strategy points to drug repurposing as a more immediate source of a potential treatment. However, it also cautions that treatments that demonstrate effective prophylactic action, or the ability to significantly improve mortality may need to be developed with selective COVID-19 targets in mind. If new medicines are needed, these are likely to take much longer to develop. In both situations, collaboration, coordination and appropriate investment will be key.
It is important to note that both the repurposing of drugs and new drug discovery and development not only need to identify the ”right” drug (or drug combinations) – there will also be a need to identify the right dose, for the right patient, at the right time. This focus needs to be embedded in research at all stages. It is all very well if a treatment works in vitro – but if it cannot reach effective doses in the lung or other target organs, or if it is toxic, it will fail. Similarly, treatment with an antiviral only for a patient with critical disease as a consequence of a ‘cytokine storm’ may not be sufficient.
Efforts to fast-track potential treatments safely are extremely welcome – but upholding the principles of drug discovery and development, optimal dose identification and clinical trial design will give them the best chance of success.”
The Society previously set out positions on the development of treatments for COVID-19 here.