An antiviral taskforce launched by the government aims to identify 'at least two effective treatments this year, either in a tablet or capsule form, that the public can take at home following a positive COVID-19 test or exposure to someone with the virus'.
Antivirals could help reduce the impact of future waves of COVID-19 and of new variants, government experts say, adding to the protective effects of the vaccination campaign. Treatments available in a form patients who test positive - or who have had contact with a case - can take at home could help limit transmission and speed up recovery, the government hopes.
GPonline understands that decisions on whether GPs or other primary care prescribers could be expected to prescribe any new antivirals identifed by the taskforce could hinge on supplies, logistics and the precise nature of any treatment available.
But the government has said it hopes that new treatments could be deployed 'as early as autumn' - potentially around the time that vaccination centres begin a drive to administer millions of 'booster' doses of COVID-19 vaccine.
The taskforce will 'search for the most promising novel antiviral medicines that can be taken at home and support their development through clinical trials' - and aim to support manufacture of the products within the UK.
Prime minister Boris Johnson said: 'The success of our vaccination programme has demonstrated what the UK can achieve when we bring together our brightest minds.
'Our new antivirals taskforce will seek to develop innovative treatments you can take at home to stop COVID-19 in its tracks. These could provide another vital defence against any future increase in infections and save more lives.'
Chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance said: 'The speed at which vaccines and therapeutics such as dexamethasone have been identified and deployed against COVID-19 has been critical to the pandemic response.
'Antivirals in tablet form are another key tool for the response. They could help protect those not protected by or ineligible for vaccines. They could also be another layer of defence in the face of new variants of concern.
'The taskforce will help ensure the most promising antivirals are available for deployment as quickly as possible.'
The government will soon launch a process to identify a chair for the taskforce, with further details of the plans to follow.