Academics redeployed to focus on coronavirus treatment

A team of up to 150 researchers at a UK university have been tasked with testing existing and experimental drugs to help find a treatment for coronavirus.

Experts at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Inflammation Research are being redeployed to discover new therapies which can be implemented before a vaccine against Covid-19 becomes widely available.

The STOPCOVID project will focus on the inflammatory pathways that lead directly to lung injury which is associated with the most severe aspects of the virus.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme on Thursday, Professor Kev Dhaliwal from the university explained the team would be testing samples received from patients to understand how some have ended up in hospital for so long.

He said: “Over the last 30 years at the centre… there’s a deep understanding of some of the mechanisms of what’s been happening in the lungs of these patients.

“What we now need to do is understand that in the patients themselves, use that discovery science and take therapies back because it is that small proportion of patients who develop devastating lung inflammation that’s causing the problems.

“And as you’re all aware, this demand for ventilators and having that critical care capacity is needed.

“The NHS has coped incredibly well, and I think we’re all pretty confident the NHS will be resilient and be able to do that.

“But for other parts of the world where they don’t have that capacity, or that ability to do that, we must find ways to stop the inflammation, that’s what we will be doing.”

The team will collaborate with pharmaceutical companies from around the world, having already identified key drugs and mechanisms currently in development or being used for other diseases.

Inflammation is said to be important in fighting infection but excessive inflammation with the disease causes the lungs to fail, leading to death.

University of Edinburgh
The team will collaborate with pharmaceutical companies from around the world (Jane Barlow/PA)

Drugs will be tested to see if they can stop this in the early stages of Covid-19 to change the course of infection and prevent the need for ventilators.

Prof Dhaliwal added: “There are drugs that are used to treat other conditions, not just lung conditions, that actually block or target inflammatory pathways.

“And the UK as a whole is moving that way to think about this field of experimental medicine for us to start to look at these as fast as possible.

“It could have been used in rheumatoid arthritis or in skin conditions and other lung inflammation conditions, we can repurpose now into this condition.

“It’s around testing samples that we received from patients who understand the pathway, and absolutely doing small experimental studies as part of the UK framework when we’re poised to do that.

“And in Scotland we have exceptional clinical facilities, great research teams, and that’s what we need to do – small studies, not large studies, just to understand whether these drugs are working and scale them out.”

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