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Antivirals and Therapeutics Taskforce

Volume 711: debated on Monday 28 March 2022

The UK has been a global leader in identifying and deploying successful treatments for covid-19. This work has been led by the UK Government’s therapeutics taskforce, which was established in response to the pandemic in April 2020.

In April 2020 there were no proven effective treatments for covid-19 but within two years the therapeutics taskforce successfully identified and made available a range of life-saving treatments for hospitalised and community patients. This was made possible through collaboration with key delivery partners like the National Institute for Health Research, RAPID C-19, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, and the devolved Governments. The therapeutics taskforce and partners ensured the UK were the first to discover dexamethasone reduced the risk of mortality in hospitalised covid-19 patients requiring oxygen or ventilation by up to 35%. It was made available to patients the same day the trial results were announced. The therapeutics taskforce has also made available other treatments including tocilizumab, sarilumab and sotrovimab which are widely used across the United Kingdom.

In April 2021 the Prime Minister launched the antivirals taskforce. Modelled on the success of the therapeutics taskforce and the vaccines taskforce, its purpose was to drive forward the UK’s antivirals programme with the clear objective of identifying safe and effective oral antiviral treatments that could be taken at home and deployed to UK patients this winter.

Under the leadership of the chair, Eddie Gray, the antivirals taskforce worked at pace to deliver this objective and has led the way in identifying and deploying oral antiviral treatments for covid-19. The antivirals taskforce negotiated deals on behalf of the UK Government to secure almost 5 million patient courses of oral antivirals, which is more both in volume and per head than any other country in Europe. We were also the first country in the world to administer oral antivirals to patients in the community in December 2021. The Government also funded the University of Oxford to launch the innovative, community-based PANORAMIC study, which is making oral antivirals available to individuals at high risk from covid-19 to better understand the effectiveness of these drugs in a largely vaccinated population.

The antivirals taskforce has ensured the UK is well-positioned to protect those at highest risk from severe disease progression, including those who cannot take a vaccine for medical reasons, and those for whom vaccines may be less effective, such as those who are immuno-suppressed.

As Eddie Gray’s tenure comes to an end, I would like to thank him for his leadership of the antivirals programme. His work has been instrumental to the success of the anti-virals taskforce and I wish him all the best for the future. I also want to take the opportunity to thank the NHS for their incredible work, the willingness of patients to enrol in trials and the fantastic work of all our delivery partners across both the therapeutics and antivirals programmes.

The therapeutics taskforce and the antivirals taskforce have made significant contributions to the UK’s pandemic response. The suite of effective treatments they have made available has played a vital role in lessening the severity and impact of covid-19 on individuals, the healthcare system and society. Now as the UK moves to living with covid-19, these treatments will form a vital part of the UK’s pharmaceutical responses.

As part of the UK’s strategy to live with covid-19, the therapeutics and antivirals programmes will be consolidated under a single taskforce, the antivirals and therapeutics taskforce. This taskforce will continue to work alongside the vaccines taskforce to make pharmaceutical interventions available to those who most need them. Additionally, the taskforce will continue overseeing the delivery of the PANORAMIC study and the eight national priority clinical trial platforms run by the NIHR; and ensuring lessons and innovations from our antivirals and therapeutics response to covid-19 are captured and, where appropriate, embedded.

Longer term, the work of the taskforce will transition to business as usual functions; as part of this process NICE will be undertaking a multiple technology appraisal of covid-19 therapeutics. This will involve evaluation of the clinical and cost-effectiveness of existing covid-19 therapeutics within their current or proposed marketing authorisations for treating people with covid-19. NICE has initiated preparatory work that will underpin the evaluation to enable it to issue recommendations rapidly when appropriate, and will continue to engage with stakeholders on this.