The independent London newspaper

Wellcome Trust joins hunt for coronavirus treatments

Building turned into respite centre for UCLH staff

09 April, 2020 — By Tom Foot

The Wellcome Trust

THE Wellcome Trust is helping the coronavirus fightback by funding trials into possible new treatments and offering a respite centre for frontline hospital workers.

The independent charity – which funds £5billion in scientific research from its HQ in Euston Road each year – is looking to establish whether anti-malarial drugs can slow the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are still no closer to knowing what drugs or therapies will stop it,” said Wellcome’s Nick Cammack. “Investing in research at scale and at speed is the only way to find out definitively whether these drugs can help in this pandemic. That’s why we’re investing £7.5million in hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine clinical trials.”

He added: “These trials are high-risk, but a bet worth placing. We’ll only know if we try.”

There have been varying reports about the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. Although they have been approved as safe and effective drugs to treat malaria – it is not yet clear whether they can help beat the coronavirus.

The clinical trials are to involve healthcare workers from the front line, as well as people with no symptoms who have had close contact with someone confirmed or suspected of having Covid-19.

“When taken, they accumulate in lung tissue where the coronavirus is found – this is why researchers think they might be effective against the virus,” said Mr Cammack. “If these trials prove hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to be effective, the drugs could be rapidly rolled out across the world to slow this pandemic.If they help us reduce the amount of time people spend in hospital, it will have a big impact – health professionals will be able to return to work and people home to their families sooner.”

Camden and Islington Foundation NHS Trust, which funds mental health services locally, recently posted a warning for patients not to experiment with hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine. The misuse of the drugs reportedly has led to dangerous psychotic reactions. A couple died in the US after consumption, not long after the drugs had been publicly championed by president Donald Trump.

Mr Cammack said: “While there have been reports of dangerous side effects, with people self-medicating as an option to treat Covid-19, the drugs were often taken in inappropriate doses or formulations. No one should try to take drugs until we know how they can be used safely for a disease.”

The Wellcome has also reached an agreement with University College London Hospitals to adapt the ground floor of the Gibbs Building for healthcare worker use.

It will offer a safe space for them to “have a change of scene from the hospital”, sleep, eat and drink and get “psychological health and wellbeing support”.

The respite centre is being staffed by volunteers, including some Wellcome staff. Wellcome experts are also working with government on the expansion of testing of NHS staff. There are two tests – one for coronavirus and one to see if someone has had the virus in the past, but ministers have been criticised for not conducting them at a big enough scale.

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