Government experts are searching for simple at-home Covid treatments to reduce the severity of infections, under Boris Johnson’s new plans.
An Antivirals Taskforce has been launched to speed up the search for new coronavirus medicines.
The Prime Minister said he hoped that pills or capsules could be available for people to take in autumn, to “stop Covid-19 in its tracks” and halt an anticipated third wave.
It is hoped that antivirals could help to reduce infections and limit the impact of any new variants.
They may also help to protect people who cannot take vaccines or those who are not fully protected after having the jab.
Officials hope to find and bring two treatments online this year.
This could mean that people with Covid-19, or those they have been in close contact with, could be offered antiviral medication – offered in tablet form – to stop the infection spreading and speed up recovery time.
‘Innovative’ home treatments
The new Antivirals Taskforce, which is yet to appoint a chair, will search for the most promising potential antiviral medicines which can be taken at home.
The taskforce will support the development of the drugs through clinical trials and also look at manufacturing opportunities.
Antiviral drugs are a type of medication used specifically for treating viral infections, and act by killing or preventing the growth of viruses.
“The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds,” said Mr Johnson.
“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 Secretary Matt Hancock said: “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.”
Antivirals a ‘key tool for the response’
The government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance 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.”
Dr Nikita Kanani, medical director of primary care for NHS England, said: “The NHS has put research into reality at record speed during the pandemic and this taskforce will now help us to identify and roll out even more new, convenient treatments for patients with Covid-19.”
Commenting on the announcement, Dr Penny Ward, visiting professor in pharmaceutical medicine at Kings College London, said: “Antiviral treatment of influenza has been shown to reduce hospitalisation and prevent death in epidemic and pandemic waves and a similar, preferably simple to use antiviral, suitable for use in the community can add to the range of interventions critical to enable us to remain on top of the Covid pandemic even in the event of the emergence of viral variants insensitive to vaccines.”
She said that there are a number of early phase trials looking at oral antiviral medications.