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Kidney patients in Birmingham join clinical trial to see if drug can protect them from COVID-19

Published on 12/07/2021

A trial that began in Cambridge earlier this year is now rolling out to hospitals across the UK, including University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, to find out if kidney patients can benefit from additional protection from COVID-19, using a drug routinely used to treat tapeworm.

The trial is investigating if the drug niclosamide, usually used to treat tapeworms, can prevent COVID-19 infection in vulnerable, high risk kidney patients and reduce the number of people who become seriously ill or die.

If the charity and industry-funded trial is successful, it may pave the way for a new treatment to prevent or alleviate the impact of COVID-19 in people on dialysis, people who have had a kidney transplant, and people with auto-immune diseases affecting the kidneys such as vasculitis who require treatment to suppress their immune system. The treatment will last up to nine months.

Professor Indranil Dasgupta, Consultant Nephrologist at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We are delighted to be part of this important trial. It is vital we find a way to protect high-risk kidney patients from catching SARS-CoV-2 and developing Covid-19. If they get it, they are more likely to fall seriously ill or die, and we need to find a way to change that.

“We believe testing niclosamide is particularly important for people who are immunosuppressed and have kidney disease, because their immune responses to vaccines can sometimes be less effective. 

“While the vaccine may offer a level of protection, niclosamide may provide further protection against COVID-19 that doesn’t rely on the immune system mounting a response.

“If successful, our innovative trial could mean that the treatment becomes available to kidney patients more widely within months.”

Professor Jeremy Hughes, Kidney Doctor and Chair of Trustees at Kidney Research UK, one of the charities funding the trial, said: “We must do everything we can to protect kidney patients, who are at serious risk from COVID-19.

“Sadly, data collected before the vaccine rollout began showed one in five kidney patients receiving dialysis in hospital or who have a kidney transplant and tested positive for the virus died within four weeks. Many of those on dialysis are having to put themselves at risk and attend their renal unit for life-saving dialysis treatment several times each week.

“Kidney patients should have the vaccine, as soon as they are offered it. We hope this trial will add an extra layer of protection for kidney patients in the future. It could even reveal a way to prevent COVID-19 in other vulnerable people.

The trial is recruiting at least 1,500 kidney patients across the UK, who are being randomised to receive either a placebo drug, or UNI911 (niclosamide) as a nasal spray in addition to all their usual treatments.