University College Cork will play a leading role in Ireland's participation in the World Health Organisation's trial to evaluate potential Covid-19 treatments.
Health Minister, Simon Harris, signed an agreement on behalf of the Government so Ireland can participate in WHO's Solidarity Trial.
Mr Harris said €2.4m is being provided to support hospitals to recruit patients for the trial that would start next week.
Several drugs have been included in the trial but other drugs can be assessed based on emerging evidence.
More than 5,000 patients in over 400 hospitals across 35 countries have already been recruited for the trial to date and another 100 countries are awaiting approval to be included.
By enrolling patients in many countries the trial aims to rapidly discover whether any of the drugs slow disease progression or improve survival.
Mr Harris said he is glad Ireland is playing its part in the global response to the Covid-19 crisis, in solidarity with its international partners: “There is still no proven treatments for Covid-19 and it is really important that any potential treatments are prescribed within the context of clinical trials where patients provide consent and everything is controlled and monitored."
Lead investigator, Prof Joe Eustace, from UCC, said the trial might allow them to identify treatments that will reduce the severity of the infection, decrease the need for intensive care and reduce the infection's mortality rate.
The trial that will run until March 2021 is being co-ordinated by the Health Research Board. Also involved are the six main university-based clinical research facilities and centres and their affiliated hospitals.
Mr Harris said the trial is a key element in the country's preparedness for the second wave of Covid-19: “Successful treatments will decrease the impact of Covid-19 on patients and Irish society, and the potential need for further lockdowns."
Participation in the Solidarity-Ireland trial, which is only open to adults, is entirely voluntary and consent-based.
The Government is delegating certain sponsor responsibilities to UCC and will provide indemnity to the college for performing these functions on its behalf.
Prof Eustace is director of the Clinical Research Facility in Cork and chairman of the senior management team of HRB-Clinical Research Coordination Ireland.
Funding for the trial will primarily support a cadre of research nurses and research assistants to optimise recruitment of patients across the country.
Prof Eustace said the global trial was launched in mid-March and Ireland expressed an interest in participating from April: “We have spent the last two months getting the various regulatory and ethical approvals for conducting the trial in Ireland.”
One of the reasons why the trial is so important is that other drugs can be added based on emerging evidence.
Two treatment options being trialled are Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication that is already being used in the US and Britain to treat seriously ill Covid-19 patients and Interferon Beta-1a, used to treat multiple sclerosis.
Prof Eustace said they want as many patients as possible to benefit from being enrolled in the trial.