Tackling COVID-19: Dr Estée Török

  Estee Torok (centre, in black) with team at Addenbrooke's Hospital  Credit: Estee Torok

Long hours running COVID-19 vaccine and drugs trials have left little time for Estée Török to contemplate her postponed wedding. With over 20 years' clinical research experience in infectious diseases in the UK and south-east Asia, she has a great deal to contribute to tackling the pandemic.

I’m a clinical academic working in the Department of Medicine at the University of Cambridge and at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. With most of my research team I have continued to work at Addenbrooke’s during lockdown, but we’ve all worked much longer hours than usual. In fact, until recently I hadn’t had a day off for six weeks.  

My clinical experience and research interests are in infectious diseases, microbiology and genomics. I have been involved in clinical trials of infectious diseases - including TB, HIV, viral hepatitis, Staphylococcus aureus and multidrug-resistant bacteria - in the UK and in Southeast Asia for nearly 20 years. Since moving to Cambridge my research has focussed on using genome sequencing to investigate transmission of pathogens in hospital and community settings. These skills have prepared me to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic response efforts in Cambridge.

As a clinician I’m interested in understanding the epidemiology of infectious diseases and how best to treat them. I have used my clinical trials experience to contribute to the RECOVERY trial, a randomised controlled trial of various treatments for COVID-19, as a study doctor. To date this is the world’s biggest trial of drugs to treat COVID-19 patients, and the results are regularly reviewed so that any effective treatment can be quickly made available to patients. A preliminary analysis has found that dexamethasone (a steroid drug), a cheap and readily available treatment, reduces mortality in patients with COVID-19 requiring respiratory support. 

I also set up and led a novel coronavirus vaccine trial, the ‘COV002’ trial, in Cambridge. This is a phase 2/3 trial of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, which is being tested in over 10,000 healthy volunteers in 19 UK centres. We rapidly assembled a team of over 70 research staff in three NHS Trusts (Cambridge University Hospitals, Royal Papworth Hospital and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust) in Cambridgeshire. We screened over 500 healthcare workers and vaccinated over 300 of them in just over three weeks. The results of this trial will also give us vital information on the safety and efficacy of this vaccine, production of which is already being scaled up by AstraZeneca.

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Image: Estee Torok (centre, in black) with team at Addenbrooke's Hospital

Credit: Estee Torok

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.

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