SCIENTISTS who found a life-saving Covid treatment have set their sights on curing flu.
Trials at 150 NHS hospitals will test drugs on thousands of flu-infected Brits over the next two years.
Cases are set to rocket this winter after two years of lockdowns crushed our immunity to the bug.
The REMAP-CAP trial proved in 2021 that arthritis drug tocilizumab helped to slash the risk of Covid death by more than a third.
Doctors around the world began using the medicine right away.
Chief investigator Professor Anthony Gordon, from Imperial College London, said: “During the pandemic, our trial rapidly responded to a new virus and helped save lives.
“We’re now redeploying it against a known threat.
“Flu is very infectious and can make children, the elderly and vulnerable people seriously unwell in some cases.
“We hope that our trial will help to find urgently needed flu treatments rapidly.”
NHS England last week warned there are already more than 350 people in hospital with flu.
Bosses fear they will have to battle surges in both Covid and flu at the same time this winter.
Professor Sir Stephen Powis, chief medical officer, said: “Flu is unfortunately already with us so our concerns are very real.”
Around 33million Brits are eligible for free flu jabs and the NHS already uses antivirals to treat seriously ill patients.
But the new study will aim to improve treatments – 27,500 people died of flu in an average year before the Covid pandemic.
It will be a rolling trial that tests various drugs on people admitted to hospital with severe flu, to see if they reduce the risk of intensive care or death.
Medicines on test will include flu-specific treatments oseltamivir and baloxavir as well as steroids and anti-inflammatories used on Covid patients.
Adults, children and babies older than one month will be eligible for the government-funded trial.
Health Minister Will Quince said: “Clinical research was vital in our fight against Covid and helped to save thousands of lives across the country.
“This innovative trial will use the lessons we learned.
“While this trial aims to prevent illnesses for future flu seasons, we are now seeing increased levels of flu this year, and it is vital that all those eligible for a free vaccine come forward as soon as possible.”
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