Welsh Government
GP from Wales struck down by coronavirus leads UK-wide research study  to find potential treatment

GP from Wales struck down by coronavirus leads UK-wide research study to find potential treatment

6 July 2020

A GP from Wales – who says he’s “one of the lucky ones” after battling coronavirus – is now leading a UK-wide research study to find a potential treatment.

Professor Chris Butler, who works part time for Cwm Taf Morgannwg University Health Board, had severe symptoms, including a fever and cough, and was bedridden for 10 days.

“I presented with a high fever and confusion. I could have fried an egg on my chest,” described Professor Butler.

“I was apparently talking rubbish, did not know where I was, unable to move from my bed, not able to eat, and had a very bad headache.

“About two days later I started to cough and the cough lasted for three weeks. After that, I had bouts of exhaustion, intermittent fever and very low mood. I lost my taste and lost quite a bit of weight.”

Professor Butler is the Chief Investigator of the PRINCIPLE study. The study, which is led by the University of Oxford and set up in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales, is aiming to find treatments for older people that can help them recover quicker from coronavirus and stop them needing to go to hospital.

The study is set up in GP surgeries across Wales and is open to people aged 50 and over with serious health conditions, or over 65s, who currently have symptoms of coronavirus.

“It’s an awful time for people. It was absolutely dreadful for me but I was lucky. We’re looking at this group of people because they’re at higher risk of more serious outcomes,” explained Professor Butler.

“The purpose of the trial is to identify treatments that could be widely and safely used in primary care. It’s about taking the pressure off secondary care services, our hospitals, but also reducing the severity of complications for patients.”

Patients who volunteer will be allocated at random to take part in one of two arms of the study, either current standard treatment, or standard treatment plus a drug which is an experimental treatment for COVID-19 illness.

“It’s absolutely critical that we get information about treatments that can be used in primary care,” said Professor Butler. “There are major trials taking place in hospitals with people who are already quite sick.

“Ours is a separate question. We’re asking whether treatment in the community can help people, who are managing symptoms earlier on in the disease, to recover quicker so they don’t need to go to hospital.”

Volunteers, who have symptoms of COVID-19 illness, can also register to take part in the PRINCIPLE study by visiting the study website. It’s hoped this novel approach will encourage participation across the UK even where the study isn’t formally set up in a GP surgery.

“Another unique aspect is that the study has been set up using a flexible platform model, which means as the trial progresses more treatments can be added,” explained Professor Butler.

“Also, the analysis happens as the trial is taking place so if one arm is performing better, then more people will be put into that group, increasing the chance of receiving the most effective treatment within the trial, rather than only benefitting from the information after the trial has finished.”

Professor Kieran Walshe, Director of Health and Care Research Wales, which is nationally coordinating COVID-19 research and study set up in Wales, said:

“It’s vital that research takes place in all settings, including primary care, so we gather information and evidence about the most effective treatments for all patients.

“I’m proud that GPs across Wales are part of this UK-wide effort to tackle COVID-19.”

Professor Butler, who has now fully recovered, concluded:

“By being part of a research effort that might improve things and might generate evidence-based interventions that can be used to help people recover quicker, and prevent worse outcomes, is a huge privilege.

“Once I’d recovered, I felt so grateful to be well again and so pleased that the disease did not leave me with any disability. I feel my mojo is completely recovered and I'm enjoying savouring every minute of my life. I certainly feel like I've been one of the lucky ones.”

The Health and Care Research Wales COVID-19 research in Wales webpage has details of all related research studies that are active, or in set up, in Wales.