New study of flu antiviral treatment

A Europe-wide study led by Trinity Professorial Fellow Chris Butler has found that the popular flu drug Tamiflu can improve recovery times for flu-like illnesses, particularly among older and chronically unwell patients.

The study, conducted over three flu seasons finds that the antiviral drug, oseltamivir (Tamiflu), can help people recover from flu-like illness about one day sooner on average, with older sicker patients who have been unwell for longer recovering two to three days sooner.

The European Commission-funded ‘ALIC4E’ study was led by the Universities of Oxford and Utrecht (The Netherlands) and published in The Lancet.

Despite being stockpiled in the UK since 2006 and being widely prescribed during the swine flu outbreak in 2009, oseltamivir remains one of the most controversial drugs in use. This is due to a lack of evidence from independent clinical trials to demonstrate its effectiveness in everyday care overall, and whether it benefits key groups of patients.

The study is the first large-scale publicly-funded and international trial of its kind to assess antiviral treatment for influenza-like illness in primary care; it was carried out with 3,266 patients recruited from general practices across 15 European countries, and with 26 partner organisations.

As well as looking at the overall benefits of oseltamivir, the researchers investigated the effects in key groups of patients, such as the very young or elderly, who consulted their general practitioner (GP) with symptoms of flu-like illness.

Chris Butler is the lead Oxford investigator and Professor of Primary Care at the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences; he said: ‘We found that oseltamivir helps people recover from flu-like illness one day sooner, on average, than would be the case without it.

‘By providing evidence through a study of this scale, and using a novel clinical trial approach, we expect the results will be of great interest to governments, policy makers, companies, practitioners and patients. The vision of the EU in funding this study has to be acknowledged, a study of this kind could only have been done with extensive international clinical and research collaboration supported by far-sighted funders who are committed to improving the evidence to support patient care on a wide scale. Studies of this kind put Europe at the forefront of innovative, large scale clinical trials in clinical settings.’

The study also confirmed the known side effects of oseltamivir, with patients taking it showing higher incidences of vomiting or nausea, suggesting that GPs will need to weigh the negative effects of the drug against the potential benefits for different groups of patients.

Posted: 13 December 2019

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