South London leading the charge to find coronavirus cures

Two South London hospitals are out in front in the race to find a cure for coronavirus.

Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge has begun a trial to treat sufferers with plasma – blood from recovered patients, which is full of antibodies.

And St George’s in Tooting has already finished picking 150 people aged 18-55 to try out a vaccine devised by Oxford University – the first people in the UK to be part of a trial.

That puts them ahead of the top teams in the USA, China and Germany.

The first two phases test the safety of the vaccine, before the third phase tests its effectiveness. That puts them ahead of any other team in the world.

Study lead Professor Paul Heath said: “The whole development process is being accelerated, and we hope if this vaccine is found to work, it could be implemented as quickly as possible.”

Vaccines usually take up 10 years to develop, test and approve, but coronavirus has forced health chiefs to allow vaccine makers to move much faster.

John Bell, a regius professor of medicine at Oxford, said: “We hope to get some signal about whether it’s working by the middle of June,”

The Oxford Vaccine Group have a partnership with UK drugs giant AstraZeneca to start production of the drug, technically named ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, when the trials finish.

But the world’s largest vaccine maker, the Serum Institute of India, has already started making millions of batches of the drug, hoping it will be approved.

Meanwhile, first donations have been collected for the plasma clinical trial at Guy’s, and the first transfusions have now taken place.

The NHS is already rapidly building up capacity to collect plasma if the trial is successful – and safe – so it can deliver to as many as 10,000 patients a week.

One of the first plasma donors was west Londoner Michael Squire, 30, who works for an auction house and who had symptoms for 20 days after February 28.

He said: “The donation could not have been simpler. The staff were lovely and they made it so easy. People were very welcoming and professional.

“It was the most worthwhile couple of hours I have spent in a very long time. It makes a huge difference to think I could be helping people and that I am playing my part in the research.”

Dr Manu Shankar-Hari, of the National Institute for Health Research, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, and King’s College London, said: “Providing critically ill patients with plasma from patients who have recovered could improve their chances of recovery. I am proud to be one of the principal investigators in the clinical trial testing this research idea.”

Meanwhile Southwark Liberal Democrat Councillor, Victor Chamberlain, has written to the Health Secretary to condemn what he called the “archaic and homophobic rules” preventing gay and bisexual men from participating in the trial.

In-line with blood donation rules, men who have had sex with other men in the past three months “are at an increased risk of acquiring certain infections through sex,” and are thus banned, according to the guidelines.

An NHS Blood and Transplant spokesman said: “The Government set the three month deferral based on expert advice from a Department of Health and Social Care expert committee.

“We appreciate any deferral is disappointing if you want to save lives by giving blood, platelets or plasma.

“We recognise people want to be considered as individuals. Separately to the convalescent plasma trial, we are already working collaboratively with LGBT+ groups on blood donation.

“We want to give as many people as possible the opportunity to donate whilst continuing to ensure the safety of patients remains our number one priority.”

A Department of Health spokesman refused to comment further.

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