Fenland footballer who had kidney transplant backs drug trial that could reduce risk of Covid-19
A Wisbech transplant recipient is backing a new clinical trial into a treatment that could reduce the risks of Covid-19 among people with kidney problems.
Ben Baylis, who is secretary of and player with Wisbech Town Walking Football Club, is two years post kidney transplant, and is therefore more likely to fall seriously ill or die from the virus than those without any health complications.
He is supporting the call for Cambridgeshire kidney patients to join a clinical trial to investigate if the drug niclosamide, usually used to treat tapeworm, can prevent Covid-19 infection in vulnerable, high risk kidney patients and reduce the number of people who become seriously ill or die.
If the trial is successful, it may pave the way for a new treatment to prevent or alleviate the impact of Covid-19 in people on dialysis, people who have had a kidney transplant, and people with auto-immune diseases affecting the kidneys such as vasculitis. The trial will last up to nine months.
The trial will begin at the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre in Cambridge and it is hoped it will roll healthcare centres across the UK and will recruit at least 1,500 people who haven’t previously had the Covid-19 infection.
They will be randomised to receive either a placebo (or dummy) drug, or UNI91103 (niclosamide as a nasal spray), both provided by the manufacturer UNION therapeutics, in addition to all their usual treatments.
The drug, niclosamide, has been re-formulated into a nasal spray so it can be delivered directly to the lining of the nasal cavity, like a hayfever spray.
In the trial, people will take one puff up each nostril twice a day, as this is the part of the body where the virus can take hold. This ‘local’ drug delivery is likely to reduce the chances of people experiencing any side effects.
Usually used to treat intestinal worms and taken as a tablet, niclosamide has shown real promise in the lab. Early tests revealed niclosamide could stop SARS-CoV-2 multiplying and entering cells of the upper airways.
Professor Jeremy Hughes, chair of trustees at Kidney Research UK, one of the charities funding the trial, said: “People living with kidney disease have significant concerns about Covid-19, particularly as we are now in the second wave of the virus and many people face further social restrictions. Many of those on dialysis are having to put themselves at risk and attend their renal unit for life-saving dialysis treatment several times each week.
"And those who have had a kidney transplant must continue taking their immunosuppressant drugs, despite these making them more susceptible to infection. The number of people affected is high – in the UK alone, round 64,000 people receive dialysis treatment or have had a kidney transplant2 – that’s enough people to fill the O2 stadium three times over.”
He continues: “We hope this trial will reveal a way to protect these high-risk, vulnerable kidney patients now and in the future. It shows why funding research into kidney disease is so important right now. It could even reveal a way to prevent Covid-19 in other vulnerable people.”
Ben Baylis, whose father died of kidney disease when he was nine, said he only feels safe because he lives in a rural location.
He said: “Covid is not going away any time soon and if it gives protection and much needed peace of mind then this research will be vital for people.
“I’m aware I am lucky. I am retired, living in a house with a lovely big garden in a remote location, so in lockdown I could garden, walk the dogs, run around the garden to keep fit. I don’t have the financial pressures of a younger man with small children, concerned not just for health but also finances. I am also aware that if I was a high-shielder living in a city, I would not have been so relaxed.”
Dr Rona Smith, senior research associate at the University of Cambridge and honorary consultant nephrologist at Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who is leading the UK study, said: “It is vital that we find a way to protect patients on haemodialysis and other high-risk kidney patients from catching SARS-CoV-2 and developing Covid-19. If they get it, they are more likely to fall seriously ill or die from the virus, and we need to find a way to change that.”
She continues: “There are a number of existing trials taking place that are searching for an effective Covid-19 preventative treatment, but patients with impaired kidney function are largely excluded, despite being so vulnerable to the disease. This trial will prove whether niclosamide can provide swift protection for these very high-risk patients. The recent promising news on vaccine development is exciting. However, alongside vaccine studies, we believe testing this drug is particularly important for people who are immunosuppressed and have kidney disease: vaccines rely on a strong immune response and do not always work when the immune system is suppressed or in patients on dialysis. Niclosamide may provide protection against Covid-19 without relying on the immune system mounting a response.”
She explains: “If successful, our innovative trial could mean that the treatment becomes available to kidney patients more widely within months. It would mean they could receive their regular life-saving dialysis or take their immunosuppressant drugs without additional worry. And if it’s successful it could even be rolled out more widely – and benefit more vulnerable people.”