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The RECOVERY trial

Gloved hand holding a petri dish

The UKRI-funded RECOVERY trial – the world’s largest clinical trial into treatments for COVID-19 – has reported preliminary findings for three of the six treatment types it has been investigating since March.

The RECOVERY trial first recruited participants at the end of March and within six weeks was active across 173 sites in the UK.

It aimed to identify treatments that would be beneficial for people hospitalised with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

Hydroxychloroquine has no clinical benefits

In June, the RECOVERY trial concluded that hydroxychloroquine had no beneficial effect in patients hospitalised with COVID-19, and stopped enrolling participants to that arm of the trial immediately.

Hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine had received a lot of media attention in early 2020 and was used widely to treat COVID patients, despite the absence of any good evidence. The RECOVERY trial team issued its preliminary findings due to their important implications for patient care and public health.

The trial team said it was “disappointing” that the treatment was ineffective, but noted it allowed them to “focus care and research on more promising drugs.”

Dexamethasone reduces deaths by up to one third

Just a few weeks later, the trial published further preliminary results. This time showing that dexamethasone, a low-cost steroid treatment, reduces deaths of hospitalised COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory complications by up to one third.

Speaking at the time, Peter Horby, Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases in the Nuffield Department of Medicine, University of Oxford, and one of the chief investigators for the trial, said:

Dexamethasone is the first drug to be shown to improve survival in COVID-19.

Dexamethasone is inexpensive, on the shelf, and can be used immediately to save lives worldwide.

No significant mortality impact for lopinavir

Further preliminary results showed lopinavir, an antiviral drug commonly used in combination with ritonavir to treat HIV, had no significant mortality benefit in hospitalised COVID-19 patients.

The treatment had previously shown promising activity against SARS and MERS coronaviruses.

Speaking at the time, Martin Landray, Professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health, University of Oxford, and Deputy Chief Investigator, said:

These are clear results and once again emphasise the value of large randomised clinical trials in differentiating drugs we hope work from treatments we know do work.

See the lopinavir results published in the Lancet.

Potential new COVID-19 treatments on trial

In October 2020, it was announced that RECOVERY would evaluate Regeneron Pharmaceuticals’ investigational antiviral antibody cocktail, REGN-COV2.

REGN-COV2 is the first specifically designed COVID-19 therapy to be evaluated by the trial.

Peter Horby, acting as chief investigator of the trial once again, said:

The RECOVERY trial was specifically designed so that when promising investigational drugs such as REGN-COV2 became available they can be tested quickly.

The trial was one of a round of projects to receive funding as part of the £24.6 million rapid research response funded by UKRI and the Department of Health and Social Care through the National Institute for Health Research.

Find out more about the RECOVERY trial.

Last updated: 24 November 2020

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