Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute are helping to run the largest clinical study of Long COVID to date, where thousands of patients will trial existing drugs to see if they improve their symptoms.
Spanning sites in London, Exeter, Liverpool, Leicester, Derby and Hull, the study, supported by a £6.8 million grant from National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), will be led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and UCL, in collaboration with over 30 organisations, including the Crick.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that over one million people are living with Long COVID symptoms in the UK. These can be debilitating and over 80 Long COVID clinics have been established because there is a great need to understand, diagnose and treat the disease. But at the moment, care for most involves basic investigations like blood tests and self-management of symptoms with the help of online advice.
As part of the new study called STIMULATE-ICP (Symptoms, Trajectory, Inequalities and Management: Understanding Long COVID to Address and Transform Existing Integrated Care Pathways), researchers will interview patients and health professionals, as well as analyse data from NHS records to better understand patterns of Long COVID and the effectiveness of current treatments.
Over 4,500 patients will be recruited to trials to receive either standard of care or one of three drugs: aspirin, colchicine (a medicine for treating inflammation and pain associated with gout), or a combination of loratadine and famotidine (used to treat bladder disorders). Researchers will record fatigue at six months post-infection, whether participants have been able to return to work, their mental health and other important outcomes.
They will also compare standard of care with a new community-based pathway, which involves an MRI scan (Coverscan™) and enhanced rehabilitation (Living with COVID Recovery™).
Researchers at the Crick will be analysing if the immune systems of people with Long COVID respond differently to different treatments, tracking changes over time against their symptoms.
Dr Emma Wall, UCLH Infectious Diseases consultant and Senior Clinical Research Fellow at the Crick who is leading the drug trial arm of the study said: “Long COVID is a new disease that causes long-lasting debilitating symptoms in an increasing number of people. The scale of this pandemic means that Long COVID presents a huge challenge to healthcare and community services.
“Taking a scientific approach to improving both care pathways and medical treatments will enable us to provide the best care for individuals based on their symptoms and unique immune response to the virus and ongoing treatments.”
STIMULATE-ICP is part of a comprehensive package of 15 studies across Britain, drawing on the experience and insights of patients and healthcare workers to investigate treatments, services and diagnostics for Long COVID. In total, £19.6 million in funding has been awarded to these studies by the Government through NIHR.
The study’s co-principal investigator Professor Amitava Banerjee said: “Two million people in the UK are estimated to have had persistent symptoms for more than 12 weeks following initial COVID infection, with far-reaching impact on patients, healthcare and the economy.
“More than 80 long COVID clinics have been established around England but we need to better understand, diagnose and treat this new disease. Inequalities in access to and provision of Long COVID care have already become apparent."