Manchester doctor plays leading role in ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19 drug research

Manchester doctors have played a leading role in global coronavirus research, finding the first drug shown to increase survival rates in people hospitalised with COVID-19.

The peer-reviewed results of the RECOVERY trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 17 July, indicate that the low-cost drug, dexamethasone, ‘significantly lowers’ death rates in patients hospitalised with severe respiratory complications of COVID-19.

Dr Tim Felton, a Senior Lecturer in the Division of Infection, Immunity and Respiratory Medicine at The University of Manchester, and Honorary Consultant at Wythenshawe Hospital – part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust (MFT) – co-authored the paper and leads the study at MFT.

Dr Andrew Ustianowski, Honorary Senior Lecture at The University of Manchester and  Consultant in infectious diseases and tropical medicine at North Manchester General Hospital (MMGH) and the Deputy Clinical Director in Greater Manchester Clinical Research Network, is also a co-author. NMGH is run by MFT as part of a management agreement prior to its formal transfer from the Northern Care Alliance NHS Group.

RECOVERY is currently taking place at 176 sites across the UK and is sponsored by the University of Oxford. It is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and is one of a number of COVID-19 studies that have been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health and Social Care.

“Dexamethasone, which is a type of steroid used in a range of conditions – typically to reduce inflammation – is the first drug to improve survival rates in hospitalised coronavirus patients, which truly is a breakthrough”

 Dr Tim Felton

Dr Felton, who is Clinical Lead for all COVID-19-related research studies at MFT played an instrumental role in ensuring dexamethasone became part of standard care at MFT from 26 June. This followed shortly after the announcement of the initial results for the dexamethasone arm of the trial earlier in the month.

He said: “Dexamethasone, which is a type of steroid used in a range of conditions – typically to reduce inflammation – is the first drug to improve survival rates in hospitalised coronavirus patients, which truly is a breakthrough.

“The short timeframe between our first MFT participant being recruited to the RECOVERY trial in March, to our first COVID-19 patient receiving dexamethasone as a standard NHS treatment in June, is an incredible turnaround.

“This could not have happened without patients consenting to take part in research – which is now directly benefitting all patients admitted to our hospitals with suspected coronavirus – and I’d like to thank everyone who played their part in this priority COVID-19 research.”

Another drug, remdesivir, which research has shown helps to shorten recovery times for patients hospitalised with COVID-19, was also introduced into standard care at MFT on 26 June. Like dexamethasone, it had previously been part of a research trial at MFT.

Dr Felton said: “MFT has an established history of delivering cutting-edge clinical research, with the infrastructure, expertise, and staff to enable opening nationally-prioritised COVID-19 studies rapidly and safely, while providing high-quality care for care for trial participants.

“This meant we were able to add to the global evidence base, but also make changes here on the ground at MFT very promptly, underlining the vital importance of health research and the rapid impact it can have in a pandemic situation.”

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