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National drug trial to prevent deaths after Covid patients leave hospital

A UK-wide study is being launched to reduce the number of people who die in the months following a stay in hospital with Covid-19.

The clinical trial - named HEAL-COVID - also aims to cut the number patients being readmitted to hospital with complications as a result of having Covid.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggests that 29% of patients who are hospitalised due to Covid-19 are readmitted within six months, and more than 12% die within the same period.

HEAL-COVID stands for Helping to Alleviate the Longer-term consequences of Covid-19 and is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Cambridge NIHR Biomedical Research Centre. It will test a number of safe, existing drugs on patients across the UK in order to find effective treatments.

Charlotte Summers in Jubilee Gardens
Study lead Dr Charlotte Summers

Study lead Dr Charlotte Summers, from the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke's Hospital, said:

Having survived the trauma of being hospitalised with Covid-19, far too many patients find themselves back in hospital with new or long term complications.

Dr Charlotte Summers
Dr Mark Toshner, honorary consultant at CUH and part of the HEAL-COVID trial

Dr Mark Toshner, honorary consultant at CUH and part of the HEAL-COVID trial


Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation, said:

"Unfortunately, many go on to die in the months after being discharged. This trial is the first of its kind to look at what drugs we could use to reduce the devastating impact on patients."

The UK is a world-leader in developing life-saving treatments in response to the pandemic and this clinical trial is further evidence of this.

Lord Bethell

“It is vital we continue our search for the best treatments for COVID-19, particularly to prevent people developing long-term complications after becoming ill.

“Clinical trials platforms like HEAL are showing how innovative designs can mean we can reach just the right candidates, quickly and emphatically.

“I am massively grateful to the incredible scientists and clinicians at Cambridge University who are driving forward this life-saving work, which will play a critical role in putting this pandemic behind us.”

The trial is being led by Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH) and University of Cambridge, in collaboration with Liverpool Clinical Trials Centre (University of Liverpool) and Aparito Limited.

HEAL-COVID will enrol patients when they are discharged from hospital, following their first admission for Covid-19. They will be randomised and given one of two drugs – apixaban and atorvastatin - and their progress tracked. It's hoped a third drug will be introduced to the trial on the recommendation of the UK COVID Therapeutic Advisory Panel (UK-CTAP) in the coming weeks.

Prof Carrol Gamble, Director of the Liverpool Clinical Trials Centre, said:

This is an exciting opportunity to help people in the post-acute phase of Covid-19. The trial is designed to allow us to remove or add-in treatment options in response to patient outcomes. Every effort has been made to design the trial to minimise burden on NHS staff and patients and represents a true team approach to science.

Prof Carrol Gamble

NHS medical director, Professor Stephen Powis, said:

The NHS led the world in research identifying dexamethasone as the first treatment in the world for Covid-19 and this latest trial could help discover new treatments for the after-effects of Covid, helping to rapidly get world-leading therapies to our patients.

Professor Stephen Powis

“Long Covid can have a significant impact on someone’s quality of life, which is exactly why in addition to funding research into the condition, the NHS has invested millions into opening dozens of dedicated clinics to help people get back to good health. “