Dozens of patients at the Royal Free London (RFL) have now been recruited to clinical trials for drugs which could be used to treat COVID-19 (coronavirus).

For one of the drugs, Tocilizumab, the RFL has recruited more than any other hospital in Europe to date, with over 330 patients planned to participate in the trial globally.

The global Tocilizumab trial will look into whether the drug can be used to treat patients with severe pneumonia associated with COVID-19. Patients with severe COVID-19 develop difficulty breathing because their immune response to the virus has caused severe inflammation in the lungs. The drug works by dampening down the body’s immune response, helping to reduce inflammation.

Researchers at the RFL are also looking into whether an antiviral medication Remdesivir could be used to treat patients at earlier stage of the disease, especially those who do not require high amounts of oxygen to help them breathe.

Dr Sanjay Bhagani, who is leading the trials at the Royal Free Hospital, said: “Trials like this would normally take months and years to complete, but instead we are doing this in a matter of weeks.

“We are using drugs that are already available and have been tested for other conditions, so we know that they are relatively safe to use. Across the world thousands of patients are participating in these trials so the international medical community is able to gather a lot of information about them very quickly. We are hopeful it could be used to help those who are in the earlier stages of the disease.

“The Tocilizumab trial is a randomised study, which means some patients on the trial are randomly assigned to receive the drug and some are given a placebo. Once this study is completed we will have more of an idea of whether it is effective and we will look to working with the drug company to ensure this is made available for the sickest patients." 

Meanwhile a research team at Barnet Hospital has successfully enrolled 163 patients into an important Covid-19 observational study, aimed at analysing a range of patient data which can help scientists understand more about the virus.

Dr Ameet Bakhai, consultant cardiologist and principal investigator for the study, said: “This study is an important contemporary, international snapshot and has arrived approved, amid the peak of our UK admissions and will be critically important to understand the differentiating factors between successful and tragic patient outcomes.

“We have been fortunate enough to have our electronic database in place for hospital admission for some months being one of 10 national global digital exemplars and we were able to screen over 400 patients rapidly to be able to find and input data on about 163 patients to date, with the support of our analytics team and research data team at Barnet Hospital, led by our senior nurse Veronica Conteh and colleagues as a team effort.”

Image: Dr Sanjay Bhagani