Coronavirus patients in British hospitals will be given aspirin in a new trial to find out whether the cheap drug could prevent deadly blood clotting in the lungs.
Some studies have shown that nearly 80 per cent of people who die of Covid-19 have thrombosis – or blood clotting – in the lungs, which prevents oxygen from moving through the body and can be fatal.
It is thought the virus triggers a massive boost of cytokines, a type of protein which signals to the liver that more clotting is needed, causing the ‘sticky blood’.
Scientists are hopeful that blood thinners, like aspirin, may help avoid the devastating clotting that can lead to death. If proven effective, it would be the first over-the-counter drug shown to have an impact on coronavirus.
Professor Peter Horby, of Oxford University and the chief investigator of the recovery trial, which is looking at several drugs and treatments, said aspirin had been added to their list this week.
Speaking at the Science and Technology Select Committee, Prof Horby said: “This week in Recovery we’ve just added aspirin to the trial because clotting seems to be a big problem.
“Aspirin is a very widely available, cheap drug, and if it were to work, that would be a huge treatment boost. Anti-clotting drugs are an area where we did have a gap.”
Research published late last month by the University of Maryland in the US found that coronavirus patients who were taking a daily low-dose aspirin to protect against cardiovascular disease had a significantly lower risk of complications and death than those not on the drug.
Aspirin takers were less likely to be placed in the intensive care unit or hooked up to a mechanical ventilator, and they were more likely to survive the infection compared to hospitalised patients who were not taking aspirin.
However, because the US is not conducting a trial into aspirin the findings are only observational, and it is unknown whether giving aspirin more widely would be beneficial.
Dr Jonathan Chow, assistant professor of anesthesiology, said: “If our finding is confirmed, it would make aspirin the first widely available, over-the-counter medication to reduce mortality in Covid-19 patients.”
As well as causing clotting in the lungs, Covid-19 infections can also increase the risk of dangerous blood clots that can form in the heart, lungs, blood vessels and other organs.
In rare cases, they can cause heart attacks, strokes and multiple organ failure as well as death.
Prof Horby also told MPs that his team was hoping to report results of trials into convalescent plasma within six to eight weeks. The plasma is made from the blood of coronavirus survivors and contains powerful antibodies which can fight the disease.
Britain is running the biggest convalescent plasma trial in the world and has so far signed up 3,000 patients, half of whom will be given the treatment, while the rest act as a control arm.
Prof Horby said it was crucial to carry out trials, rather than just giving speculative drugs to patients.
“You can end up several months down the line with tens of thousands of people having taken a drug and we still don’t know if it has worked,” he said.
“We saw that in the 2009 [swine flu] pandemic, 40,000 people were treated off label, and when we came out of that there was no new evidence and no new drugs.
“In the US they have given tens of thousands of patients convalescent plasma outside trials and if they had put them in a trial we would know if it worked by now. We should have convalescent plasma results by the end of the year.”
Prof Horby called on more patients to sign up for trials.