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First trial of COVID-19 treatments through GP practices rolled out across UK

Published: 11 May 2020

The first trial to test potential treatments for COVID-19 through GP surgeries is being rolled out across the UK. The PRINCIPLE trial has been funded by NIHR and UK Research and Innovation as part of the UK Government’s rapid research response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Led by an Oxford University team, the trial is testing drugs that could prevent the need for hospitalisation in people over 50 with COVID-19. The study is looking at patients who are especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of pre-existing health conditions such as heart disease or a weakened immune system.
In the first phase, the trial is evaluating whether a seven-day course of hydroxychloroquine can reduce the severity of COVID-19 symptoms. The drug is already widely used for treating malaria and certain types of arthritis. The antibiotic azithromycin, which is known to have antiviral properties, will also soon be added to the trial.
PRINCIPLE is one of the UK Government’s national priority platform trials into COVID-19, which are being delivered across the NHS with support from NIHR’s Clinical Research Network.
More than 500 GP practices across the country are recruiting participants who have COVID-19 symptoms and are aged 50 and over with underlying health conditions. People aged over 65 with symptoms can also take part, even if they don’t have any underlying conditions.
From this week the trial is now also screening participants online. This means that regardless of which GP surgery they are registered with, older people with coronavirus symptoms can now pre-screen for the trial at home via an online questionnaire to see whether they can be included.
The trial’s Chief Investigator, Professor Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care in the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said:
‘The PRINCIPLE trial platform is enabling us to rapidly evaluate potential treatments for COVID-19 in older people who are most at risk of serious complications from the illness. With enough people recruited, this trial will give us the vital information we need to understand whether existing drugs can help people recover sooner and at home, without needing to be admitted to hospital – a significant milestone in the course of this pandemic.
‘As soon as we find that any one of the drugs in our trial is making a critical difference to people’s health, we want it to be part of clinical practice as soon as it can be introduced.’
Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty said:
‘The Government is working with researchers to find proven, effective treatments for COVID-19. This PRINCIPLE trial is a vital part of this research effort and it’s being scaled up by GP surgeries across the country.
‘I would urge anyone who is contacted to take part in this trial to do so and contribute to helping our world class scientists find a treatment that will save lives.’

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