Dismay as UK government halts cash for world-renowned Covid programme – The Guardian

Despite its trials saving thousands during the pandemic, funding is being stopped for the groundbreaking UK Recovery programme
It changed the treatment of Covid-19 patients across the globe, saved thousands of lives by pinpointing cheap, effective drugs during the pandemic, and earned Britain widespread praise from international groups of scientists.
But now government support for the UK Recovery programme is to end. In a few weeks’ time, central financing for the programme will halt. The scheme will only be able to continue thanks to funding from a group of US-based philanthropists.
The move has dismayed senior scientists who say it is another worrying example of the UK’s life sciences sector being short-changed by government. “We knew Recovery had huge potential and that was realised in a very short period during Covid. But now that dream is being unrealised,” said Prof Peter Horby, one of the co-founders of Recovery.
And it is not just the value of Recovery that has been ignored as the pandemic has ended, added Horby. “Britain did some of the world’s best clinical trials, vaccine development, and genomics work, but a lot of that has just been thrown away or starved of investment. Yet we badly need to be alert to the dangers of future pandemics.”
Recovery – the Randomised Evaluation of Covid-19 Therapy – is a drug-testing programme that, at the height of the pandemic, involved thousands of doctors and nurses working with tens of thousands of Covid-19 patients in hospitals across Britain. Trials were carried out in intensive care units and wards crammed with seriously ill patients.
“In day-to-day, regular clinical medicine, it’s absolutely critical to work out the difference between what you think might work, what actually works – and what doesn’t,” said Prof Martin Landray, Recovery’s other co-founder. “Recovery did exactly that.”
The programme managed to pinpoint four effective medicines, while conclusively showing that eight overhyped drugs were not. For example, the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine – widely touted by Donald Trump as a Covid-19 treatment – was shown to provide no help for patients. By contrast, dexamethasone, a cheap treatment for inflammation and arthritis, was found to reduce deaths by a third among patients on ventilators in ICUs. No other nation came close to matching these achievements.
“Other countries, including Canada and the US, have made it clear they are extremely envious of what Britain did with Recovery and are preparing to spend considerable sums in setting up similar schemes – at a time when we seem to be losing interest collectively in the programme. And I think that is a shame,” added Landray.
Recovery in the UK will survive thanks to Flu Lab, an American philanthropic organisation dedicated to battling the future flu epidemics, with the programme being extended to investigate new treatments for flu as well as Covid under the new deal.
The decision by the UK government not to continue to support Recovery comes against a worrying background, which has seen Britain fall badly behind other countries in conducting clinical studies, where new medicines are tested on volunteers to make sure they are safe and work, and to monitor any side effects. The Swiss firm Novartis recently scrapped a large trial of a cholesterol drug in Britain, for example.
“We’ve been dropping down the league table when it comes to doing trials so that we are now below Italy, Poland, France and many other countries. The state of the NHS is part of the problem but it is nevertheless worrying,” said Horby.
“I welcome the government’s ambition for the UK to become a scientific superpower but if you look at what is happening today, we seem to be heading in the wrong direction.”
This point was backed by Landray, who warned that it was crucial the UK was prepared for the arrival of future pandemics. “You don’t get ready to fight the next war by disbanding the army just because it’s peacetime,” he told the Observer.


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