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ALEX BRUMMER: Britain leads Covid-19 fight


ALEX BRUMMER: Britain – despite its chaotic response and high death count – has done more than any other to meet the challenge of coronavirus

  • The two most effective treatments for Covid-19, which have brought down death rates and eased the damage to patients, are products of UK scientists 
  • The fight attracts World War II metaphors. Out of chaos, ill preparation and retreat from Dunkirk, Britain triumphed 

Here is something you are unlikely to hear on today’s broadcast bulletins. Of all the countries fighting coronavirus, Britain – despite its chaotic response and high death count – has done more than any other to meet the challenge of the pandemic. 

This is not my opinion but that of Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia, told to Bloomberg. 

The UK has several factors working in its favour. Its liberal market economy may lack the discipline of co-ordinated market economies such as Germany but it is less constrained and more resilient. 

Meeting the challenge: The two most effective treatments for Covid-19, which have brought down death rates and eased the damage to patients, are products of UK scientists

Meeting the challenge: The two most effective treatments for Covid-19, which have brought down death rates and eased the damage to patients, are products of UK scientists

Early in the pandemic, Britain was less prepared than Germany. But once the private sector and universities were let loose, F1 engineers were building ventilators and University College London had come up with a lighter, less intrusive and more sensitive ventilator design. 

Something else has gone largely unnoticed. The two most effective treatments for Covid-19, which have brought down death rates and eased the damage to patients, are products of UK scientists. It was British researchers who discovered that the most effective drug treatment was dexamethasone, a widely used steroid, which is low cost and widely available. 

Moreover, scientists at the University of Southampton and their commercial spinout Synairgen found that their inhaled antiviral drug SNG001 significantly reduced the odds of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 coming down with respiratory disease. The first patient studies showed a remarkable 79 per cent effectiveness. 

The vaccine picture also tilts in favour of the Anglo-Saxon liberal market model. Of the 34 vaccines identified by the WHO as being research tested and trialled, the vast majority (around 30) are emerging from the UK, US and other free-wheeling nations.

Only four so far can be attributed to the more static EU model. The Oxford Jenner vaccine, adopted by AstraZeneca (AZ), has led for much of this year. It was set back last week by an apparent adverse reaction in one UK female patient. 

In keeping with principles of good research, AZ instantly paused its work before now restarting global trials. 

The interruption was in line with a pledge made by big pharma companies to maintain the highest standards in the rush to finish line. AZ’s vaccine progress and GlaxoSmithKline’s adjuvant technology, expected to result in a vaccine in 2021, is a tribute to Britain’s world-leading pharma and university labs. 

So much world-leading science has found a home in the UK which hosts four out of the world’s top 20 research universities. All of those – Oxford, Cambridge, UCL and Imperial (as well as Southampton) – have devoted enormous resources to Covid-19. With the assistance of extra R&D funding, they effectively have become the Bletchley Park in the war against pandemic. 

What is impressive about the hunt for a vaccine is the speed. Cautious voices warn of a potential bad outcome as when a vaccine was rushed for H5N1 avian flu in 2003. Big pharma is determined not to abuse gateways offered by regulators to bring effective treatments to fruition. 

The fight attracts World War II metaphors. Out of chaos, ill preparation and retreat from Dunkirk, Britain triumphed. Extraordinary efforts by science and pharma are making that happen again and, with medical resilience, will come an economic bounce. It is already happening. 



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