Ibuprofen is being tested to assess whether it can prevent severe breathing problems in coronavirus patients and reduce the number of people needing treatment in intensive care units.
Researchers at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London are looking at whether “a specific form” of the cheap anti-inflammatory drug can help cut serious side effects from COVID-19, potentially leading to shorter hospital stays.
Ibuprofen has previously been said by politicians in France to worsen the symptoms of coronavirus.
Professor Mitul Mehta has stressed that only hospitalised patients would be involved in the trial – to see if the drug will “reduce the respiratory problems they have”, and not those who are so ill that they need to be in intensive care.
If successful, there would be a “number of benefits”.
He said: “We could reduce the amount of time that someone spends in hospital – they might recover quicker and go home, that’s obviously a fantastic outcome.
“We also might be reducing the degree of respiratory distress so that it can be managed in the hospital setting, without needing to go to ICU, and that is a fantastic outcome as well.
“Theoretically, this treatment, given at this time, should be beneficial.”
Professor Mehta, however, said this was based on “animal studies”.
“It’s based on case reports, we need to do a trial to show that the evidence actually matches what we expect to happen.”
He said that animal studies into acute respiratory distress syndrome – a symptom of COVID-19 – suggests that around 80% of animals die with it.
But when they are given this special formulation of ibuprofen, this drops to 20%.
“This is very promising,” he said. “But of course it is an animal study, so we want to translate that really compelling result into humans.”
Half of the patients involved in the trial will receive standard care, and the other half will receive standard care as well as the special ibuprofen formulation.
It is hoped that the way the drug has been formulated will reduce potential gastric side effects linked to ibuprofen.
Professor Matthew Hotopf, director of the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre, said: “This highly innovative therapeutic approach seeks to rapidly advance a potentially important new treatment.
“If successful, the global public health value of this trial result would be immense given the low cost and availability of this medicine.”
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Scientists in the UK launched a review to assess links to ibuprofen and coronavirus, after controversy over its use early on in the pandemic when a French health minister advised against the use of it.
The Commission on Human Medicines’ expert working group concluded: “There is currently insufficient evidence to establish a link between use of ibuprofen and susceptibility to contracting COVID-19 or the worsening of its symptoms.”
Tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After The Pandemic: Our New World – a special live programme about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.
Thursday’s programme will include an exclusive interview with Prince Charles.