Cambridge leads trial to see if tapeworm drug can boost protection from COVID-19 among vulnerable


24-03-2021
  Coronavirus  Credit: BarocoF

UK researchers are launching a clinical trial to investigate if the drug niclosamide, usually used to treat tapeworms, can prevent COVID-19 infection in vulnerable, high risk kidney patients and reduce the number of people who become seriously ill or die from it.

If the trial is successful, it may pave the way for a new treatment to prevent or alleviate the impact of COVID-19 in people on dialysis, people who have had a kidney transplant, and people with auto-immune diseases affecting the kidneys such as vasculitis who require treatment to suppress their immune system. The treatment will last up to nine months.

Led by scientists from the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Trust and the University of Cambridge, the PROphylaxis for vulnerable paTiEnts at risk of COVID-19 infecTion (PROTECT-V) trial will start in Cambridge with a plan to expand to other UK healthcare centres. It will recruit at least 1,500 kidney patients, who will be randomised to receive either a placebo (or dummy) drug, or UNI911 (niclosamide) as a nasal spray, both provided by the manufacturer UNION therapeutics, in addition to all their usual treatments. Participants can receive the vaccine and still take part in this trial, which will identify whether niclosamide can protect people from the virus either on its own, or in combination with any of the vaccines currently available.

Niclosamide has been re-formulated into a nasal spray so it can be delivered directly to the lining of the nasal cavity, like a hayfever spray. In the trial, people will take one puff up each nostril twice a day, as this is the part of the body where the virus can take hold. This ‘local’ drug delivery is likely to reduce the chances of people experiencing any side effects.

Usually used to treat intestinal worms and taken as a tablet, niclosamide has shown real promise in the lab. Early tests revealed niclosamide could stop SARS-CoV-2 multiplying and entering cells of the upper airways.

Dr Rona Smith, senior research associate at the University of Cambridge and honorary consultant nephrologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who is leading the UK study, said: “It is vital that we find a way to protect patients on haemodialysis and other high-risk kidney patients from catching SARS-CoV-2 and developing COVID-19. If they get it, they are more likely to fall seriously ill or die, and we need to find a way to change that.

“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. 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.

“If successful, our innovative trial could mean that the treatment becomes available to kidney patients more widely within months. It would mean they could receive their regular life-saving dialysis or take their immunosuppressant drugs without additional worry. And if it’s successful it could even be rolled out more widely – and benefit more vulnerable people.”

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Image:  Coronavirus

Credit: BarocoF

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge

 

The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)