Clinical trials on potential Covid-19 treatments could start within weeks as part of a bid to fast-track new therapies to help tackle the disease.
Six drugs will initially enter the programme being set up under the Accelerating Covid-19 Research & Development (Accord) platform.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said its aim is to accelerate the development of drugs for patients admitted to hospital with coronavirus and reduce the time it takes to set up clinical studies from months to just weeks.
The DHSC said the first of the potential drugs is beginning phase 2 studies across the UK “imminently”, the point at which a clinical trial focuses on testing a drug on patients to assess its effectiveness and any side effects.
Announcing the new initiative, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Currently, no drugs in the world have been clinically proven to treat Covid-19.
“But our Therapeutics Taskforce has identified a number of promising candidates.
“Currently, six different treatments have been entered into national clinical trials and the first is ready to enter the next stage: a new early phase clinical trial platform that we are launching today.”
Early indications of drugs’ positive results under the Accord programme, which is funded by the DHSC and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will see them rapidly advance to large-scale trials.
Further potential treatments will be fed into Accord as the programme rolls out over the next few weeks.
It has been formed through a partnership between the Government Scientific Office, the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)’s biomedical research centres and clinical research facilities, and expert centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, clinical research company IQVIA and biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca.
It comes under the overall work of the Therapeutic Taskforce, to whom the life science sector can suggest potential drugs or molecules that could be tested through the Accord platform.
Business Secretary Alok Sharma said: “The UK is home to world-class scientists and researchers who are united in their aim to defeat coronavirus.
“Through Accord, we are bringing together the Government, industry and research organisations to speed up the development of effective new coronavirus treatments, helping to save thousands of people’s lives and benefiting our NHS.”
Tim Sheppard, IQVIA UK general manager and senior vice president northern Europe, said: “Covid-19 is the greatest public health challenge that has faced the world in a generation.
“Hyper-accelerating clinical trials of medicines in discovery pipelines could be instrumental in saving many lives in the UK and beyond.”