The anti-inflammatory drug colchicine, usually used to treat gout, will be included in the UK’s nationwide RECOVERY trial program aimed at seeking a cure for the coronavirus infection, its researchers have said.

Colchicine will be tested in a randomized trial involving 2,500 patients across the UK who will receive the drug in addition to the existing standard of care for a total of 10 days, the RECOVERY (Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy) program said on its website.

The data received from the 2,500 volunteers will then be compared to the treatment results of at least 2,500 other patients, who will receive only standard treatment. The major goal of the study is to assess whether the drug can reduce the mortality rate in severe Covid-19 cases within the scope of 28 days since the start of the treatment. Other parameters assessed will involve an impact on hospital stay and the need for lung ventilation. 

Colchicine is commonly used as an anti-inflammatory treatment against gout. Since severe inflammation caused by an overactive immune system is still a major aspect of the most serious Covid-19 cases, which can lead to lung damage and death, the researchers hope that the drug could reduce some of the most dangerous symptoms. 

“We’ve already shown that treatment with one anti-inflammatory drug, dexamethasone, can reduce deaths in the most severely ill Covid-19 patients,” Professor Martin Landray from the Nuffield Department of Population Health at the University of Oxford, who co-leads the trial, said.

The drug is relatively cheap and readily available, the scientists note, adding that, if successful, it could provide an immediate boost to anti-Covid efforts around the globe. “Colchicine is an attractive drug to evaluate in the RECOVERY trial as it is very well understood, inexpensive and widely available,” Professor Peter Horby, another member of the Nuffield Department of Medicine and the study co-chair, said. 

Colchicine is not the only drug being investigated within the UK program, involving 176 hospital sites across the country and with over 18,000 patients recruited so far. The list includes anti-inflammatory medicine tocilizumab, plasma from donors who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies against the disease, and the pain relief drug aspirin, which the scientists plan to use against blood clotting in Covid-19 patients. 

Another experimental treatment involves the Regeneron antibody cocktail used to treat US President Donald Trump when he contracted coronavirus. The RECOVERY trials of an antibiotic called azithromycin, which has already been recommended for use against Covid-19 in some countries, including Russia, is also in full swing. Enrolment of patients ended on Friday and scientists are collecting data.

The news about colchicine came as the UK registered 16,022 new cases on Friday. The UK death toll from the virus now stands at 57,551. The UK government said earlier on Friday that it had asked national regulators to assess a vaccine candidate developed by the British-Swedish firm AstraZeneca, expecting that four million jabs could be ready for rollout in December. 

Concerns over the vaccine remain, however, as the clinical trial results showed some surprisingly diverging data depending on the dosage. AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot said on Thursday that the jab would be tested again, adding that it would probably not delay the vaccine’s authorization.

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