BBC:A new drug developed by UK scientists to treat Covid-19 patients is being trialled at University Hospital Southampton.
Developed by UK bio-tech company Synairgen, it uses a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce when we get a viral infection.
Initial results from the trial are expected by the end of June.
There are currently few effective treatments for coronavirus with doctors relying on patients’ immune systems.
What is the new drug?
Interferon beta is part of the body’s first line of defence against viruses, warning it to expect a viral attack, explains Richard Marsden, chief executive of Southampton-based Synairgen.
He says the coronavirus seems to suppress its production as part of its strategy to evade our immune systems.
The drug is a special formulation of interferon beta delivered directly to the airways when the virus is there, with the hope that a direct dose of the protein will trigger a stronger anti-viral response even in patients whose immune systems are already weak.
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Interferon beta is commonly used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
Synairgen has already shown its preparation can stimulate the immune response in the lungs of patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions.
But we can only know whether it works for Covid-19 patients after it has been through a rigorous clinical trial.
Kaye Flitney is one of 75 people who have been enrolled in the clinical trial, filmed exclusively by BBC Panorama. It requires Covid-19 patients, like her, to inhale the drug via a nebuliser to bring it deep into the lungs.
Kaye, 67, struggles to sit up in her hospital bed and coughs as she puts the dispenser to her lips. She says when she first found out she had coronavirus her first thought was not for her own health.
“I was frightened because my husband has heart failure. It would kill him.”
The 67-year-old, who was taken to hospital due to difficulty with her breathing, said taking the drug hasn’t caused her much discomfort.
“You don’t notice you’re taking it ’til you’re finished. It’s not so bad. I could see myself taking it at home.”
How does the trial work?
The 75 volunteers involved so far have been recruited from some 10 hospitals around Britain. Half get the drug, half get what is known as a placebo – an inactive substance.
No-one involved in the trial knows which patients have been given which treatment until the trial is over.
“If you know it’s a drug, your mind might have a bias,” explains Sandy Aitken, the nurse administering the drug.
The hope is, it will show the patients getting the drug do much better than those that don’t, says Professor Tom Wilkinson, of the University of Southampton.
Synairgen’s drug trial is the template for a new fast-track clinical scheme that has just been set up by the government.
The Accord programme, as it is known, is designed to accelerate the development of new drugs for patients with Covid-19.
The first phase of the programme involves six other drugs.
More than 100 treatments are being explored worldwide and a drug called remdesivir, which was developed as an Ebola treatment, has generated particular excitement.
US officials have claimed there is “clear-cut” evidence it helps people recover from the coronavirus.
How far away could the UK treatment be?
Initial results from the interferon beta trial are expected by the end of June. But even if the drug does show promise, it will face further scrutiny before it can be used routinely on patients.
That could take months, although the government has said it will work as fast as possible.
If deemed effective, the drug and the nebulisers used to deliver it would then need to be manufactured in huge quantities.
Mr Marsden says he is already talking to suppliers around the world about whether it will be possible to start producing the drug as soon as the clinical trial is over.
However, he says it would still not be widely available until the end the year.
Afghan artists destroy their work fearing Taliban retribution
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša congratulates Donald Trump despite no election result
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has handed Donald Trump victory in the 2020 United States Presi..
Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has handed Donald Trump victory in the 2020 United States Presidential election, despite no official result being declared.
“Its pretty clear that American people have elected Donald Trump and Mike Pence for four more years,” Janša tweeted on Wednesday.
Donald Trump declared a premature victory at the White House and described the election process as a “major fraud on our nation”.
The campaign for Democrat candidate Joe Biden has described the bid to stop vote counting as “outrageous, unprecedented and incorrect”, and say they are “ready to deploy” legal teams.
The Slovenian Prime Minister’s tweet generated an immediate response from several MEPs, including German Nicola Beer from Renew Europe Group.
“Donald Trump has his deeply undemocratic, unjustified playbook on elections EU Member States should not play along,” tweeted Beer.
“The European Union, with all Member States, has a duty to show respect for every single vote. Period.”
No other EU leader has issued congratulations or themselves announced a result in the US election.
“While we wait for the election result, the EU remains ready to continue building a strong transatlantic partnership, based on our shared values and history,” said EU Vice-President Josep Borrell.
The electoral college votes have not all been counted at time of writing.
“More delays and facts denying … [the] bigger the final triumph for the President. Congratulations to the Republican Party for strong results across the US”.
The US election is currently locked in a stalemate, with hundreds of thousands of votes still to be counted, and the outcome still unclear in key states.
Lessons for Africa from devastating Mauritius oil spill
The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and i..
The shipwreck of the MV Wakashio has caused one of Mauritiuss worst environmental catastrophes and its devastating impact is expected to last for decades. Over 1 000 tonnes of fuel oil leaked into pristine Mauritian waters, covering the nearby shore in toxic sludge and immersing the ecosystem in a desperate struggle for survival.
This environmental crisis couldnt have occurred at a worse time for Mauritius. The spill will seriously impede the recovery of a Mauritian economy highly dependent on coastal tourism and already battered by COVID-19 travel restrictions.
Mauritius and other African states need to promptly review their contingency strategies and response capacities so we can start positing immediate lessons to be learnt.
The national and international response to the MV Wakashio crisis was commendable. France, India, Japan and the International Maritime Organization cooperated to support local Mauritian efforts in a race against time to pump out the fuel from the vessel, which eventually broke apart on 15 August. Meanwhile local volunteers flocked to the shore with improvised booms and barriers.
Mauritius and other African states need to urgently review their contingency strategies
While a full investigation and report is urgently required, it is possible to start piecing together a narrative of what has occurred and how it turned so bad so quickly.
The MV Wakashio left China on 14 July heading for Brazil. On 25 July it ran aground on the reefs located roughly a mile off Pointe dEsny and the Blue Bay Marine Park along the south-eastern shore of Mauritius. No oil leakage was reported at the time, and the Mauritius coast guard swiftly deployed booms and took other preventive actions. The government activated its National Oil Spill Contingency Plan the following day.
By 5 August a minor oil slick was observed surrounding the vessel. It was still assumed that the countrys contingency plan was sufficient and that the risk of oil spill was still low. But then the MV Wakashio flooded and began sinking. Oil started to spill into the sea.
On 7 August Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared a national environment emergency. Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo suggested that this is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem. Mauritius called for international help once the scale of the emergency became apparent and quickly overwhelmed the resources and capacity of the countrys national contingency plan.
The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating
Some of these resources were acquired as part of the Western Indian Ocean Marine Highway Development and Coastal and Marine Contamination Prevention project from 2007-2012. The project also called for the establishment of the Regional Marine Pollution Co-ordination Centre (RCC) for Marine Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Western Indian Ocean.
South Africa will host the RCC, and its establishment must now be expedited. The disaster demonstrates how even seemingly small oil leaks and spills can be devastating, especially when they occur in sensitive and critically important environmental areas.
Will other African countries and regional organisations develop sufficient capacity to respond to crises on the scale of the MV Wakashio without depending on international assistance? There is a great risk of oil spills and leaks occurring elsewhere in the African maritime domain in the future, especially spills that occur during bunkering.
The Cape of Good Hope route is a maritime super highway. Some countries, like South Africa, are able to swiftly respond on their own, as demonstrated in May when the potential wreck of the Yuan Hua Hu, also carrying 4 000 tonnes of fuel oil, was narrowly averted.
Theres a great risk of oil spills occurring elsewhere in Africa, especially during bunkering
Many countries such as Mauritius lack at least some of the resources or capacities needed to deal with such a disaster. Governments require up-to-date assessments to plan future responses. Better and more collective resources and skills at a regional or continental level are required.
Improved accountability mechanisms are also important. The Japanese owners of the MV Wakashio have offered, under international obligations, to pay compensation for applicable damages caused by the oil spill. Yet in other cases it might not be as easy to track the owners and determine liability (as can be seen in the investigation into the tragic Beirut port explosion of 4 August).
It is time for African maritime institutions to review their approaches and develop appropriate expertise and response mechanisms. This should ensure fast and effective regional or continental action when the inevitable oil leaks arise.
The results should be reported to key multilateral organisations – ideally to the African Union (AU) – as part of the implementation of 2050 Africas Integrated Maritime Strategy. The AU could, for instance, convene a consultative forum for experience and skills sharing with inputs from all the regional economic communities such as that hosted by the Southern African Development Community in 2018.
Disaster relief is expensive, but is nowhere near as controversial as other maritime issues such as creating security frameworks and determining boundaries. It can also foster collaboration anchored in regional AU institutions that draw on indigenous expertise and capacities.