Trial begins of new UK COVID-19 treatment

Trial begins of new UK COVID-19 treatment
Paramedics wheel a patient on a trolley outside a hospital in London on January 12, 2021 as surging cases of the novel coronavirus are placing health services under increasing pressure. (AFP)
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Updated 13 January 2021

Trial begins of new UK COVID-19 treatment

Trial begins of new UK COVID-19 treatment
  • Using a nebulizer, the drug is turned into a mist, making it easy to inhale
  • Interferon beta protein inhaled by patients shown to have 80% efficacy in reducing symptoms

LONDON: A trial has begun in the UK of a new treatment to stop the development of severe symptoms in COVID-19 patients.
The treatment involves inhaling a protein called interferon beta, commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis, in order to stimulate the immune system before the virus can take hold.
Using a nebulizer, the drug is turned into a mist, making it easy to inhale, with each course currently costing around £2,000 ($2,733) to produce.
Early research found the treatment could cut the rate of serious cases of COVID-19 developing in patients by as much as 80 percent.
Synairgen, the UK company manufacturing the drug, said in a trial of 100 people, patients were up to three times more likely to be able to return to everyday activities quickly after completing the course, and hospital stays were reduced by a third. 
“To be viable, it will have to represent good value for money,” said Synairgen’s CEO Richard Marsden.
The new trial will involve 600 patients, and is set to include people in 19 other countries, with half of participants receiving the drug and the rest a placebo.
The trial is set to be completed by this summer, and the drug could be approved for use before the end of the year.
The effectiveness of interferon beta against COVID-19 was first discovered by scientists at the University of Southampton while researching its uses against other lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The university’s Prof. Tom Wilkinson, overseeing the trial, said: “If we had a positive study, we would hope to move rapidly into scaled manufacture and delivery of the drug in clinical practice.” 
He added that the development of alternatives to vaccines is essential as it could take years for the whole world to be inoculated against COVID-19, and that there would be many people unable or unwilling to receive a jab.
The threat of virus mutation and resistance to current vaccines also increases the need for alternative treatments, he said.

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
Updated 19 January 2021

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners

Afghan VP pushes for execution of Taliban prisoners
  • Taliban spokesman says first vice president wants to sabotage the peace talks

KABUL: Afghanistan’s First Vice President Amrullah Saleh on Monday demanded the execution of Taliban prisoners as violence surges in the country in spite of US-sponsored talks between the government and the militants.

Under mounting US pressure and following months of delay, Kabul released last summer thousands of Taliban prisoners from its custody as part of the landmark accord between the group and Washington.

But now there has been a spike in arrests of suspected Taliban fighters linked with recent attacks.

“These arrests should be executed so that it becomes a lesson for others,” Saleh told a routine security meeting in Kabul.

“The arrested like nightingales admit (to conducting attacks), but their all hope is that they will be freed one day without real punishment … any terrorist detainee should be executed.”

Known as the staunchest anti-Taliban leader in government and consistently opposed to talks with the Taliban, Saleh said he would raise his demand for the executions in the High Council of the Judiciary. His spokesman, Rezwan Murad, said the first vice president has also shared his demand with President Ashraf Ghani.

“Currently, around 1,000 Taliban prisoners have been sentenced to capital punishment,” Prison Administration spokesman in Kabul, Farhad Bayani, told Arab News.

“Such news is provoking, he wants to sabotage the process of talks,” said Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, when reached by Arab News for reaction to Saleh’s push.

“We will severely take the revenge of any type of inhuman and cruel treatment of our prisoners.”

The Afghan government was excluded from the US and Taliban deal signed last February in Doha, which as per the agreement is also hosting the current peace talks between Kabul and the insurgents.

In spite of the ongoing talks, violence has surged in Afghanistan and both the government and the Taliban accuse each other for its escalation.

Hundreds of civilians have lost their lives in the violence, which has displaced tens of thousands of people since the February deal, while Kabul has endured a resurgence in assassination attacks and magnet bombs.

Prior to Saleh, some residents and lawmakers also demanded the executions of Taliban members suspected of being behind major attacks. Heather Barr, interim co-director for Human Rights Watch, told Arab News: “Human Rights Watch opposes the use of the death penalty under all circumstances. It is a uniquely cruel and irreversible punishment and we are glad to see that there has been some global progress towards abolition of the death penalty.”

She added: “Afghanistan has already seen so much violence and death and continues to experience this violence every day. There is an urgent need for accountability for the many human rights violations that have been inflicted during Afghanistan’s many years of war, but executions will not bring the justice Afghans so badly need.”