The UK Government has launched a clinical trial programme to fast-track the development of new drug candidates to treat hospitalised Covid-19 patients.

Named ACCORD, the new initiative is intended to cut time taken to set up clinical trials for new treatments from months to weeks.

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Conducted by government, academia and industry partners, the programme will initially involve six Covid-19 drug candidates.

Two of the drug candidates will immediately begin Phase II trials to assess their safety and effectiveness at sites across the UK. Norway-based company BerGenBio’s AXL kinase inhibitor bemcentinib is the first candidate to enter the ACCORD programme.

UK Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Currently no drugs in the world have been clinically proven to treat Covid-19. But our Therapeutics Taskforce has identified a number of promising candidates.

“Currently, six different treatments have been entered into national clinical trials and the first is ready to enter the next stage: a new early phase clinical trial platform that we are launching today.”

The new programme is funded by the country’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). It is intended to offer early indication about drug candidates’ effectiveness against Covid-19.

If positive results are obtained, these drugs will be rapidly advanced into the ongoing large-scale trials across the country.

The programme is supported by a nation-wide clinical trial platform provided by IQVIA.

IQVIA will deliver the ACCORD trials through National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)’s network of investigators and research facilities, as well as partner sites in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Apart from the six initial candidates, additional treatments will enter the programme over the next few weeks.

AstraZeneca has agreed to support the programme through the rapid upscaling of development and trials.