FPM welcomes the formation of UK Government ‘Antivirals Taskforce’

Posted on: Wednesday 21 April 2021

The Faculty of Pharmaceutical Medicine warmly welcomes the announcement of the formation of an Antiviral Taskforce, with the aim of finding antiviral medicines for use in the management of COVID.

Antiviral medicines have transformed the management of chronic viral disorders such as HIV and Hepatitis B and C while existing anti-influenza antivirals have been shown to prevent hospitalisations and reduce deaths due to influenza when used early following illness onset in the community. In addition to relief of illness in those affected, antiviral treatment of contacts can reduce the spread of infection within the community.

The initial pattern of illness from COVID is very similar to influenza suggesting that early intervention with an effective antiviral medication could prevent need for hospitalisation, admission to ICU and death from COVID as well as reducing time to recovery in those affected. Treatment of close contacts of patients may act as preventative therapies to reduce further spread of disease in the community. Preliminary data from community studies with monoclonal antibody antiviral treatments have confirmed this potential, but small molecule antiviral treatments given as a tablet or via inhaler would be easier to use in the community than medicines that must be given by intravenous infusion in a medical setting. The promise of early treatment might, additionally, encourage greater use of the rapid tests now available with earlier recognition of illness within the community. The target of identifying direct acting antiviral treatments to be available by the autumn is ambitious, but rapid identification of candidate therapies, financial support for rapid community based decentralized clinical trials including subjects randomised and treated immediately following a positive rapid test and linked to rapid review and adaptive licensing of effective treatments may enable the target to be met.

As more viral variants emerge with the ever present threat of potential vaccine evasion, there is an increasingly urgent need for this ‘second string’ approach using effective antiviral medicines to enhance early recovery from COVID infections and control community outbreaks enabling us to stay ahead of this rapidly evolving pandemic. The FPM again welcomes this announcement and stands at the ready to help.