(Telegraph UK)— The UK government spent £20 million buying stocks of drugs trumpeted by Donald Trump as potential cures for Covid-19 in recent weeks.
The US President has championed a number of antiviral medicines as potential corona virus treatments including hydroxychloroquine which he revealed he has started taking despite concerns about dangerous side-effects.
The US president said he had been taking the drug daily in pill form for around 10 days and had discussed it with the White House doctor before doing so.
The antimalarial drug has thus far proved ineffective at treating corona virus at late stages. A trial of the drug in elderly and vulnerable corona virus patients in the UK was rolled out this week.
Over the last two months, the UK has entered into 16 contracts for the medicines chloroquine, hydroxychloroquine, and chloroquine phosphate used for malaria and other diseases and placed major orders for lopinavir-ritonavir, which is normally used to treat HIV, according to records published in the EU database of public procurement seen by The Guardian.
A study from France, published in the BMJ last night, found that hydroxychloroquine did not help significantly reduce admission to intensive care or death in patients with pneumonia due to Covid-19.
A randomized clinical trial carried out in China, reported the BMJ, concluded that patients with mild to moderate persistent Covid-19 who received hydroxychloroquine did not clear the virus more quickly than those receiving standard care.
The government said failure to snap up the drugs would have resulted in them being sold to other countries.
“Lopinavir/ritonavir tablets, one of the drugs of choice worldwide for the treatment of Covid-19, is scarce in supply and the contracting authority having identified a supplier that was ready willing and able to supply lopinavir/ritonavir tablets needed to move quickly to secure this supply,” the government said in its account of the procurement published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
A study in the New England Journal of Medicine published this week found the lopinavir-ritonavir treatment showed no “observable benefit for patients with severe corona virus 2019 beyond standard care”.
The contracts with a number of British firms were not put out for tender on the grounds of “extreme urgency”.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said the procurement will give NHS patients faster access to medicines if they are proven to be effective.