• Quote: ‘A huge step forward if antiviral drugs work. You don’t have hospital services under enormous pressure. Normal services can function – you don’t have to have lockdown or other draconian control measures’

By Andrew Atkinson

A new Covid pill undergoing clinical trials could be the solution to ending repeated lockdowns, in what could be a huge step forward against coronavirus, scientists have claimed.

It is hoped that the new antiviral, which stops symptoms progressing, could prevent another coronavirus wave in winter – helping us live with coronavirus.

The new drug, currently undergoing UK clinical trials, is expected in six months.

Chief trial investigator Prof Kevin Blyth, of Glasgow University, said: “It would be a huge step forward if antiviral drugs work.

“You don’t have any hospital services being put under enormous pressure because patients never come to the hospital.

“Normal services can function and you don’t have to have lockdown or other draconian control measures.”

The GETAFIX trial uses a scoring system – from 1 to 10 – to measure whether it stops Covid patients from becoming more seriously ill.

If shown to work against SARS-CoV-2 – the virus which causes Covid-19 disease – then millions of doses will be handed out on the NHS.

A daily tablet could kill coronavirus – if taken within a few days of a positive test: “Certainly over the next six months we should be able to get an answer,” said Prof Blyth.

“If this drug did work in reducing hospital attendances and the risk of having a bad outcome, then you might want to test it in people who’ve just been exposed.

“You may be able to reduce spread and the risk of outbreaks happening,” he added.

Antivirals stop the virus replicating to prevent disease, but most trials globally are focusing on drugs that treat disease symptoms.

If the phase 2/3 GETAFIX trials shows that Favipiravir works it could be the first antiviral treatment against mild Covid – which make up the vast majority of cases.

Those based in the Glasgow area can volunteer for the trial as soon as they develop symptoms. A separate trial is also testing the same drug in London-based participants.

Dr Janet Scott, former chief investigator of the GETAFIX trial in its earlier stages, said: “In my view with concerted effort it is possible to have results by the autumn.

“We do need a well tolerated, oral antivirals that can be used quickly, when a person gets their first symptoms.”

Modelling for Sage has warned there could be another devastating Covid wave after summer – if vaccination take-up among over-50s does not exceed 85%.

NHS trials to repurpose existing drugs by proving they work against Covid have already led the world.

British scientists discovered that the steroid Dexamethasone tackled symptoms and cut the risk of severely ill hospitalised patients dying.

NHS England said since the NHS trial results were announced it has already saved 22,000 lives in the UK alone.

The immunosuppressant Tocilizumab has also shown benefit. Remdesivir, an antiviral drug, had a mild benefit in severe Covid cases.

“The drugs that have so far proven to be useful in Covid, pretty much all of them affect the immune system. So your body’s response to the virus.

“Trials like ours and others will be targeted a bit more against the virus.

“This just reflects the fact that we’ve got loads of antibiotics that kill bacteria, but we’ve very few antivirals for acute viral illness, whether it’s Covid or anything else.

“Antivirals have not really taken off, but diseases like HIV show how effective they can be,” said Prof. Blyth.