Researchers at Cancer Research UK and its partners have initiated a clinical trial to study camostat, used to treat inflammation of the pancreas, as a potential therapy against Covid-19.

Named SPIKE1, the Phase III trial is being conducted by Cancer Research UK’s Centre for Drug Development’s (CDD) in alliance with Latus Therapeutics and the University of Edinburgh. LifeArc is funding the study.

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Camostat has demonstrated an ability to prevent Covid-19 from entering human cells. The aim of SPIKE1 is to determine if the drug could help control symptoms of the infection and prevent the hospitalisation of patients.

As the drug is licensed in Japan and South Korea to treat chronic pancreatitis, it is expected to enable rapid manufacturing, if successful in treating Covid-19.

CDD and Latus Therapeutics obtained shipping of camostat from Ono Pharmaceutical, which produces the drug in Japan. Latus Therapeutics received £1m in funding from LifeArc to conduct a trial of the drug in Covid-19 patients.

LifeArc CEO Melanie Lee said: “As an independent medical charity with expertise in medical translation, LifeArc could rapidly offer the resources to evaluate proposals and financially support studies with the best chance of improving patient outcomes. We are pleased to support this vital work during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The SPIKE1 trial will enrol Covid-19 patients who exhibit symptoms but do not require hospital care yet. Participants will receive daily doses of the drug and will be monitored each day via telephone, as well as self-report their temperature and blood oxygen levels.

The trial will primarily asses whether use of camostat early after Covid-19 symptoms begin could stop the infection from progressing, reducing the need for hospitalisation.

Latus Therapeutics founder Dr Bobojon Nazarov said: “Camostat belongs to the only class of drug that has a strong mechanistic basis for blocking entry of the virus into human cells.

“We believe this drug could be used to reduce the severity of Covid-19 infection, providing much needed time for the body’s immune system to recognise the virus and destroy it.”