Published by BBC NEWS - 25th January 2022

Molnupiravir pills

Image source, Merck

Over-50s and younger adults with underlying health conditions are being urged to participate in a study of life-saving treatments for Covid-19.

The study is open to those who test positive for Covid and had symptoms develop in the previous five days.

Volunteers will be given pills to take at home.

The study will help decide how antiviral drugs will be used, Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid asked everyone eligible to “step forward” and “help us to learn more about medicines which could save thousands of lives”.

Antivirals were “part of our approach as we learn to live with Covid, by preventing the most vulnerable from being hospitalised”, he said.

Those to be used in the Panoramic trial are:

  • molnupiravir, made by Merck, Sharp and Dohme (MSD)
  • paxlovid, made by Pfizer and taken alongside another drug, ritonavir

The UK regulator has licensed both for treating Covid, with molnupiravir the first to be given the green light, in November.

Both have completed clinical trials and shown promising results at reducing the risk of serious illness or death.

The study will give doctors an idea of the potential benefits to vaccinated patients – and help the NHS plan how they can be used.

Launched in December, it already has 4,500 people signed up but needs 6,000 more as soon as possible.

You can sign up at the study website now or your GP may contact you to ask you to participate if you test positive for Covid.

Charities, including the British Liver Trust, Kidney Care UK and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, are urging anyone vulnerable to Covid to sign up.

Fiona Loud, from Kidney Care UK, said antiviral treatments would be “a vital tool to give more protection to people who are most at risk from Covid-19, including those with kidney disease”.

People with the following health conditions are also encouraged to sign up:

  • chronic respiratory disease (including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis and asthma requiring at least daily use of preventative and/or reliever medication) 
  • chronic heart or vascular disease 
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological disease (including dementia, stroke, epilepsy) 
  • severe and profound learning disability 
  • Down’s syndrome
  • type-1 or type-2 diabetes
  • morbid obesity (body mass index (BMI) over 35) 
  • severe mental illness 

Pippa Erskine, a double lung transplant recipient with cystic fibrosis, was treated with antivirals after testing positive for Covid at the start of January.

Knowing the drugs would help ease her symptoms and prevent complications was “a huge relief”, she said.

“With restrictions easing, it’s so important that those vulnerable to Covid-19 have the best possible chance of staying protected against the virus and, most importantly, staying out of hospital,” Ms Erskine added.

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