Go back

Tony Blair urges wider roll-out of experimental Covid-19 drugs

Image: Chatham House [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

But experts insist clinical trials play essential roll in proving efficacy

Tony Blair has called for the rapid deployment of “game changer” therapeutics to treat Covid-19 before data from clinical trials is in.

In a report published by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, the former prime minister insisted there was “no safety issue” in offering coronavirus treatments that meet a minimum level of efficacy to all hospitalised patients at risk of serious illness.

This would involve changing the processes of the large Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy (Recovery) trials of potential Covid-19 drugs, but Blair said “this is a lesser risk than denying potentially life-saving drugs to those who need them”.

Blair also called for quicker vaccine development and deployment by shortening “every element of it insofar as is humanly possible”, with the aim of getting the first vaccinations “underway in December”.

The report also reiterates widespread calls for the provision of rapid tests, and for the NHS Covid-19 app to record more of the key data such as tests and vaccinations.

“We could do the most immense damage to our economy if we can’t get out of this new lockdown in December and make sure that is the last lockdown,” Blair told Radio 4’s Today Programme on 2 November.

“If you were able to be in a position where you were going to deploy vaccines and therapeutics at least in a limited way before the Christmas break, you would be able to deal with hotspot areas in a much more effective way particularly if you combine it with rapid testing.”

But experts have since underscored the need for clinical trials.

Peter Horby, a professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford and chief investigator of Recovery, described many of the proposals as “helpful”.

But he said the suggestion to “allow widespread use of unproven drugs outside of clinical trials is well meaning but misguided and will only serve to slow progress towards better treatments for Covid-19”.

“Drugs are not therapies or medicines until they have been proven, without doubt, to be safe and effective,” he said. “This can only be done through clinical trials.”

Martin Landray, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of Oxford and co-lead of the Recovery trial, agreed, adding: “We have seen time and again during this epidemic that one simply cannot second-guess which treatments work and which do not.

“Clinical trials play an essential role in differentiating drugs that we hope work from those that we know actually do work.”

According to Landray, the fastest way to find effective treatments is to increase the speed of enrolment on the trial.

“Currently around one in every 10 patients admitted to hospital with Covid are enrolled in Recovery, but if we could increase that, to say one in every two patients, we would have answers by the end of November,” he suggested. “Those treatments shown to work could then become standard NHS care in December.”