A nationwide trial of a “game-changing” antiviral pill for vulnerable people who test positive for coronavirus is now under way.
Molnupiravir is the first of several antiviral treatments that will be tested during the study, which is being led by the University of Oxford.
The trial is aiming to recruit 10,600 people to test whether the pill reduces the need for the over 50s and those with underlying health problems to be admitted to hospital.
Those who take part in the trial, which has been named PANORAMIC, will have to have tested positive following a PCR test.
Participants will have to complete a daily diary for 28 days through the trial’s website, or receive a phone call from the trial team on days days seven, 14 and 28 to speak about their symptoms.
The first set of results from the trial are anticipated in early 2022.
Those at highest risk who test positive for the coronavirus – for example, people who are immunocompromised, cancer patients or those with Down’s syndrome – will be able to access either molnupiravir, or an antibody treatment called Ronapreve, to take at home outside of the study from 16 December.
Molnupiravir has shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death for at-risk, non-hospitalised adults with mild to moderate COVID-19 by 30%.
Ronapreve, which reduced the risk by 70%, is not part of the PANOMARIC that is looking at antiviral drugs.
For treatment access outside of the study, those in the highest-risk group will be informed by the NHS if they have a condition that will make them eligible to receive these treatments, should they test positive for COVID-19.
The Department of Health has said the timing is designed to ensure the treatments can help protect those most at risk from the virus over the winter months, reducing the number of hospitalisations and therefore pressures on the NHS.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The UK is a world-leader in rolling out innovative treatments to the patients who need them and today is a historic milestone in our battle against the virus, deploying the first medicines vulnerable people will be able to take outside of hospital and in the comfort of their own homes to protect themselves.
“This opens up a new era for the treatment of COVID-19, one where we can begin to cover every phase of contracting this deadly disease – whether it be before you catch it, just after you catch it, if you develop symptoms or if you require hospital care.”
Professor Chris Butler, chief investigator on the trial, said: “It is early on in the illness, when people are still being cared for in the community, that treatments for COVID-19 could have their greatest benefit.
“This new trial will test whether exciting, new antiviral treatments that are more specific to COVID-19 help people in the community recover faster and reduce the need for treatment in hospital.”
Britain became the first first country in the world to approve molnupiravir, sometimes known as Lagevrio, which was jointly developed by US-based Merck Co Inc and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, in November.
In October, the government announced it had secured 480,000 courses of the drug after a study showed it reduced the rate of hospital admissions and deaths by 50% in patients with mild to moderate symptoms.
The drug inhibits COVID-19 from multiplying, keeping levels low in the body and ultimately reducing the severity of the disease.
Mr Javid said molnupiravir would “be a game-changer for the most vulnerable and the immunosuppressed” after the UK approved it.