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Exeter long-covid patients in new study

Exeter University in consortium receiving £7 million

People in Exeter suffering from long-covid are to take part in a major survey into the disease.

A major new consortium involving the University of Exeter, has been awarded nearly £7 million by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to conduct the largest clinical study of long-covid over the next two years.

Led by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) and University  College London, the groups is made up of more than 30 researchers, health professionals, patients and industry partners from over 30 organisations working together under the banner of Stimulate-ICP (Symptoms, Trajectory, Inequalities and Management: Understanding Long-covid to Address and Transform Existing Integrated Care Pathways).


It will study 4,500 people with long-covid, starting with six sites in Hull, Derby, Leicester, Liverpool, London (UCLH) and Exeter.

Snother trial will test different drugs, such as aspirin and colchicine, to measure effects of three months treatment on symptoms, mental health, return to work and other important outcomes.

Each of the treatments is a commonly-used medication for another purpose, meaning it already has an approved safety profile and could swiftly become standardised care if found to be effective. At the same time, the work will evaluate the optimum level of support that benefits people, and what are the social determinants of outcomes.

The treatments are drawn from previous research by Dr David Strain of the University of Exeter which surveyed 928 people with long-covid to see what treatments they had tried to alleviate their symptoms, and the impact of the vaccine.

Dr Strain said: “Long-covid is incredibly distressing and debilitating, and we still know relatively little about how to treat and support people who experience it. Currently we are drawing from experience in other disease areas such as ME and chronic fatigue syndrome, however the evidence base here is far from complete.  This study will give us answers on the best treatment options, which could be swiftly rolled out in clinics.”

Repurposing existing drugs is an efficient way of finding new treatments, and one in which the UK excels. In one example, the Recovery Trial, led by Oxford University and embedded in the NHS, led to the discovery that arthritis treatment dexamethasone is effective in treating severe covid-19.

And researchers will also work alongside patients to co-develop ways of improving access to care and support, to address care inequalities.

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."

The Stimuate-ICP trial is one of 15 new research projects across the UK awarded nearly £20 million in total by NIHR to improve diagnosis and treatment of long-covid.

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