A Scots drugs firm is poised to transform the battle against coronavirus with a medicine which it hopes will target deadly lung infections in patients with the illness.

Aberdeen-based NovaBiotics has announced it could be testing one of its drugs, Nylexa, on Covid-19 patients by the second half of the year and could provide a rescue remedy long before any vaccine can be developed.

It comes as the UK death toll yesterday passed 10,000 people and one of the Prime Minister’s chief scientific advisers said it was “possible” the country could be on course to have the highest death toll in Europe.

When asked by Andrew Marr, Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome Trust and a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said: “It’s possible. The numbers in the UK have continued to go up. I do hope that we’re coming close to the number of new infections reducing, and in a week or two the number of people needing hospital reducing, and tragically in a couple of weeks’ time the number of deaths plateauing and then starting to come down.

“But yes, the UK is likely to be – it’s certainly one of the worst if not the worst affected country in Europe.”

He made the comments just hours before the Prime Minister was released from hospital, and is now recovering at Chequers.

Experts say one of the main ways to combat the coronavirus will be by repurposing existing drugs as a vaccine is likely to take a long time to develop. The active ingredient in Nylexa has been already proven safe for use in complex lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis. NovaBiotics believes the medicine could be used to treat severe bacterial lung infections, which proved fatal in the majority of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 in China and other countries where there is a high amount of antibiotic usage, and antibiotic resistance.

Although the drug does not fight the coronavirus itself, it could be used against bacterial infection which are common in those who have Covid-19. Due to patients’ low immune systems, these infections can quickly become life-threatening with regular antibiotics having little effect. In Hubei Province, China, where the pandemic started bacterial lung infections or sepsis were the cause of death in more than 50% of Covid-19 patients in hospital.

Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, said the use of Nylexa could be a “promising step forward” in the global battle against the virus.

She said: “The quickest treatment for Covid-19 symptoms is likely to come from repurposing existing medications which have already been tested for safety in humans.

“We now need clinical trials to determine efficacy, dosage and side effects, and this is a promising step forward.” Nylexa works as a booster for antibiotics and has been shown to help tackle even antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Manufacturers say they could start producing the drug for trials as early as May, and clinical studies could start “in a very short space of time”. The firm believes that providing the trials are positive, the drug could be used on certain patients throughout the outbreak in the UK and abroad.

Deborah O’Neil, CEO of NovaBiotics said: “The impact of bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance in Covid-19 is beyond doubt, and whilst vaccine development continues for the longer term, it is critical to develop rapidly deployable strategies to prevent deaths and long term health issues from secondary bacterial infections caused by SARS-CoV-2. These infections could still be fatal regardless of antiviral or other experimental treatment.

“Nylexa is low risk, low cost, readily available candidate treatment that could be tested and deployed to combat the coronavirus pandemic very quickly”

READ MORE: Mark Smith: The problem with the Scottish Government’s laws on Covid? They don’t go far enough

Professor Dilip Nathwani OBE, Consultant physician and Emeritus Honorary Professor of Infection, University of Dundee, said: “Secondary bacterial infections have been long recognised as an important and devastating cause of mortality in patients with primary viral pneumonia.

“In my 30 years of clinical practice, despite the administration of antibiotic therapy to cover against these secondary bacterial infections, I have seen a significant number of patients tragically still succumb to the infection.

“This is supported from data emerging during the Covid-19 crisis. Therefore, during this current pandemic of Covid-19 respiratory infections, the need to consider and test antibiotics that offer alternative and complimentary action are of critical importance.

“I believe Nylexa may be such a potential treatment, its evaluation needs to be now.”

The latest data for the UK, as of yesterday, showed that 282,374 people had been tested for the virus, with 84,279 people testing positive.

Of these, 19,945 people were in hospital, and 10,612 people in the country have died from the disease.

In Scotland, 5,912 people have tested positive, a rise of 322 from Saturday. A total of 1755 people were being treated in hospital, and 221patients were in intensive care.

This brings the total number of people who have died in Scotland to 566.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said there had been 24 deaths related to the virus reported overnight across Scotland, but emphasised the figures were likely to be an underestimate.

During the Downing Street press conference yesterday, health minister Matt Hancock said:”Today marks a sombre day in the impact of this disease as we join the list of countries who have seen more than 10,000 deaths related to coronavirus.

“The fact that over 10,000 people have now lost their lives to this invisible killer demonstrates just how serious this coronavirus is and why the national effort that everyone is engaged in is so important.”

As scientists all over the world are rapidly trying to create an effective vaccine against the coronavirus, a cross-party group of MPs have urged the Prime Minister to ensure it is not patented, to allow as many people as possible to access it.

A letter sent by SNP MP Dr Philippa Whitford on behalf of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vaccinations for All, called for Boris Johnson to ensure any publicly-funded vaccine is available on an open-access basis so developing countries can purchase and produce it.

It also asks for three commitments, including “impose public interest conditions on all UK funding committed to develop Covid-19 vaccines, treatments and diagnostics” and “where patents, monopolies or exclusivities already exist on medical products that are potentially useful for tackling Covid-19, the UK government should issue crown use licenses where necessary to ensure scale-up of production and ensure affordable access to these products.”

READ MORE:  Care workers 'hushed up' over fatal outbreak at Lennoxtown home

It adds: “Covid-19 is unprecedented as a public health emergency, and access to these medical products cannot be restricted by intellectual property rights.”

Dr Whitford said:“The UK government must work cooperatively with the rest of the world and ensure that any Covid-19 vaccine will not be patented to create a monopoly, but allow equitable access across the world.

“We have seen the speed with which Covid-19 has spread, so failure to control or eliminate it in developing countries would just see the virus returning to cause further epidemics in the future.”

“A vaccine will only be globally effective if it’s affordable, accessible and available for everyone who needs it - now is the time to act to make that possible.”

Shops across Scotland are closing. Newspaper sales are falling. But we’ve chosen to keep our coverage of the coronavirus crisis free because it’s so important for the people of Scotland to stay informed during this difficult time.

However, producing The Herald's unrivalled analysis, insight and opinion on a daily basis still costs money, and we need your support to sustain our trusted, quality journalism.

To help us get through this, we’re asking readers to take a digital subscription to The Herald. You can sign up now for just £2 for two months.

If you choose to sign up, we’ll offer a faster loading, advert-light experience – and deliver a digital version of the print product to your device every day.

Click here to help The Herald: 


Thank you