As of this morning – Friday May 20 – the current recorded case count for COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the UK has hit 269,127 with 37,837 deaths.

Cancer Research UK and its partners have kicked off a clinical trial to determine the potential of repurposing a drug used to treat inflammation of the pancreas for the treatment of COVID-19.

The SPIKE1 trial, funded by LifeArc and a partnership between the charity's Centre for Drug Development (CDD), Latus Therapeutics and the University of Edinburgh, will investigate whether camostat, which has been shown in the lab to prevent COVID-19 from entering human cells, could help control symptoms of the virus and prevent hospitalisation.

The drug is already licensed for use in Japan and South Korea to treat pancreatic disease, so if successful it could be quickly manufactured and used to treat people with COVID-19, the charity notes. The fact that it is already approved also allowed camostat to proceed straight to a Phase III clinical trial in this setting.

The trial will take place in the community, recruiting people with symptoms of COVID-19 before they require hospital care. Those receiving treatment will take daily doses of the tablet and all patients will be assessed daily by telephone and self-report their temperature and blood oxygen levels.

Almost half of UK COVID-19 patients requiring critical care have died in hospital so far, highlighting the critical need for new treatment options alongside the development of a successful vaccine. Researchers believe that repurposing already available drugs such as remdesivir or camostat to treat COVID-19 could save lives.

“We believe [camostat] could be used to reduce the severity of COVID-19 infection, providing much needed time for the body’s immune system to recognise the virus and destroy it. Unlike finding a vaccine, this drug could be used quickly to help people recover from COVID-19,” said Dr Bobojon Nazarov, founder of Latus.

“We’re seeing the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients throughout the country and we have the skills at Cancer Research UK to assist the national effort in helping to beat this virus, and support from LifeArc is critical to this new trial,” noted Iain Foulkes, executive director of research and innovation at Cancer Research UK.

“The charity’s Centre for Drug Development has a strong track record in setting up trials quickly, which is a testament to our sector leading ways of working. The team have shown that in these uncertain times they’ve not only managed to continue treatment for all cancer patients on their Phase I trials, but also excelled at this challenge and lent their expertise to others in need. Because we know that the sooner we can find ways to minimise the impact of COVID-19, the more quickly we can more fully return to our life saving cancer research.”