British drugs company launches trial for Covid-19 treatment

14 April 2020, 09:26

The Cambridge based drugs company will launch a trial
The Cambridge based drugs company will launch a trial. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

A British drugs company has confirmed it plans to launch global clinical testing of a drug which could treat the extreme immune response triggered by Covid-19 in severely ill patients.

Cambridge based pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca said it is rushing through testing for its drug Calquence - which is currently used to treat some blood cancers - after encouraging early clinical results suggested that suppressing the inflammation caused by the immune response could reduce the respiratory harm caused by coronavirus.

This could mean patients suffering from symptoms of the virus might not require ventilation and could cut the number of deaths from Covid-19, according to the company.

This will be the group's fastest ever trial launch, which is set to start within the coming days across the US and some European countries.

Listen & subscribe: Global Player | Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify

Jose Baselga, executive vice-president of oncology research and development at Astra, said: "With this trial we are responding to the novel insights of the scientific community and hope to demonstrate that adding Calquence to best supportive care reduces the need to place patients on ventilators and improves their chances of survival.

"This is the fastest launch of any clinical trial in the history of AstraZeneca."

Covid-19 can trigger an exaggerated immune system response in some patients with the virus, which increases the impact on the respiratory system and is one of the factors that makes the virus so deadly.

Astra's trial, called Calavi, will look at the use of Astra's drug Calquence - or acalabrutinib - in supportive care for Covid-19 patients to boost their chances of survival.

Louis Staudt, chief of the lymphoid malignancies branch at the National Cancer Institute, said: "Given the well documented role of the protein BTK in regulating inflammation, it is possible that inhibiting BTK with acalabrutinib could provide clinical benefit in patients with advanced Covid-19 lung disease.

"As with all new treatments, it will be necessary to gather data from clinical trials in order to understand the best and safest treatment options for patients."