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Rona leads Covid trial starting with tapeworm drug

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is leading a major new trial to discover whether a drug used to treat tapeworms can prevent high risk kidney patients getting Covid-19.

Dr Rona Smith - leading the trial
Dr Rona Smith - leading the trial

Addenbrooke’s consultant nephrologist and University of Cambridge senior research associate, Dr Rona Smith, is heading a UK study into whether, the first trial agent, niclosamide can protect people on its own, or in combination with vaccines.

It involves researchers and patients across the UK and if successful may pave the way for treatment to prevent or alleviate the impact of Covid-19 in kidney transplant patients, those on dialysis, and people with kidney-related auto-immune diseases.

In addition the same clinical trial infrastructure– known as the ‘platform’ - will be used to test other agents, helping to treat other patients with Covid.

During the latest trial around 1,500 kidney patients will receive a dummy drug, or niclosamide as a nasal spray in addition to their usual treatment for up to nine months.

Early tests of niclosamide reveal it could stop SARS-CoV-2 multiplying and entering cells of the upper airways.

It has been re-formulated from a tablet into a twice-a-day nasal spray so it can be delivered directly to the lining of the nasal cavity, like a hay fever spray

Dr Smith said:

We believe testing niclosamide is particularly important for people who are immunosuppressed and have kidney disease, because their immune responses to vaccines can sometimes be less effective.

Dr Rona Smith

“While the vaccine will offer a level of protection, niclosamide may provide further protection against Covid-19 that doesn’t rely on the immune system mounting a response.”

Kidney Research UK chair of trustees and kidney doctor, Professor Jeremy Hughes, added:

Sadly, one in five kidney patients receiving dialysis in hospital, or who have a kidney transplant and tested positive for the virus, died within four weeks. Because of this, kidney patients should have the vaccine as soon as they are offered it.

Professor Jeremy Hughes

“We hope our trial will add an extra layer of protection for kidney patients both now and in the future. If successful, this innovative trial could mean that the treatment becomes available to kidney patients more widely within months.”

The trial is funded by Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust, LifeArc, Kidney Research UK, and UNION therapeutics and is supported by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

To find out about more about taking part, contact your local renal unit or clinician to see if you are eligible. Follow progress on Facebook (opens in a new tab) or Twitter (opens in a new tab).