Former GP Geoff Sparrow updates us on COVID research being done at Bournemouth Hospital

Covid-19 Research in Dorset

I thought there might be some interest in Dorset’s contribution to COVID research. The GMC put lots of retired doctors back on the register as part of the COVID pandemic response and having been involved in running a number of cancer research trials I thought I might be able to help. As a result I have been working in the Dorset Research Hub based at The Royal Bournemouth Hospital.

Research across the UK is coordinated and funded by The National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and since this time last year its main focus has been research projects that drive progress in finding effective treatments, diagnostics and vaccines for COVID-19. It currently supports over 75 trials in the UK as well as some global research in low and middle income countries. Having the ability to collaborate with the pharmaceutical industry and charities across a National Health Service has advantages when it comes to coordinating research projects and provides the ability to recruit lots of volunteers and patients in a short time frame. As a result it is perhaps fair to say that as a country this is one area where we have been ‘world beating’.

There are 15 Local Clinical Research Networks (CRNs) across the UK and Dorset is part of the Wessex CRN with the centre based at University Hospital Southampton. Primary care through GP surgeries and Poole, Bournemouth and Dorchester Hospitals have all been active in COVID-19 research projects. I will detail a few of the trials in Dorset.

The Principle Trial has been running in primary care to look at treatments for those over the age of 65 or over 50 with an underlying health condition who have contracted COVID-19 in the hope they prevent serious illness and hospital admission. Unfortunately as yet there haven’t been any positive results.

The Recovery Trial has been more successful. It is designed for patients in hospital with the aim of finding treatments that reduce the need for ventilation, the length of admission and mortality. It is described as a platform trial – moving from one treatment to the next as results are obtained.

16000 patients were recruited into this trial in the first 3 months and it is currently the worlds largest trial of potential COVID-19 treatments. This is the trial that showed that dexamethasone works and that Donald Trump’s hydroxochloroquine doesn’t. A total of 8 different treatments have been included. Unfortunately Azithromycin, HIV antivirals and convalescent plasma have no clinical benefit. Other results are awaited. It would be difficult to overstate the work involved and disappointment for both patients and staff to come up with negative results.

The Remap Cap Trial is for those in intensive care with COVID induced pneumonia. Once again a platform trial looking for the best treatment and some encouraging results recently with 2 antibody drugs used for treating rheumatoid arthritis (tocilizumab and sarilumab). Don’t attempt pronouncing these after a glass of wine!

I have been mostly involved in the Novavax vaccine Trial as have a number from Child Okeford. Thank you very much to those of you that volunteered.  A vaccine you haven’t heard much about yet but we hope to have some results shortly. 600 were recruited into this trial through The Dorset Research Hub in just 2 months and 15000 across the UK.

We recently started 2 new trials – Provent and Stormchaser. With impressive science the antibodies that COVID-19 survivors produce have been replicated and manufactured. Provent is for pre-exposure prevention and Stormchaser for those in close contact with COVID-19. This treatment doesn’t provide sustained immunity (probably for 6 months or so) but it works immediately unlike a vaccine and should be ideal for those patients who cannot have a vaccine because of anaphylaxis or don’t produce an adequate response to vaccines.

In the interests of space I have only covered a part of all the research that is happening and I apologise to those volunteers and trial staff if I haven’t mentioned your trial.

Geoff Sparrow

April 2021