Cancer and Covid Patient Recovers Thanks to Drugs Trial

To celebrate International Clinical Trials Day today, health service leaders have thanked more than 4,000 participants who took part in nationally-prioritised COVID-19 studies in Berkshire which included Henley resident, Shaun Rowlands.

Shaun took part in the study which was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma (a form of blood cancer) in May 2019 and took three drugs on the RECOVERY trial into COVID-19 treatments during two months in Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital from April 2020.  He said: “Luckily I got on with my chemotherapy and went into remission, but my immune system was still compromised when the COVID pandemic struck.  My wife Deborah had COVID symptoms, but I showed none until about two weeks later. All of a sudden I couldn’t taste my dinner and I had a week in bed.

“At first I didn’t worry. I’ve been through cancer, I’ve been through chemotherapy. I thought ‘I’ve dealt with this, it’s not a problem’. It wasn’t until my temperature rose and I was sat by the radiator with a duvet around myself that I started to get scared. I began to panic, so we called an ambulance.  I remember going into hospital and a few days after, but the next six to eight weeks are a complete blur.”

The father-of-two was diagnosed with COVID-19 when he was admitted to hospital and offered the trial by his doctor. He commented “The doctor came to me to ask if I wanted to take part in the trial while I was still reasonably coherent and I said ‘yes, definitely, let’s do it’. I felt very positive about doing it. When I had cancer, the NHS and hospital saved my life. I think I owe it to them to give something back. That’s why I wanted to take part in the trial.”

As part of the trial, Mr Rowlands was given antiviral drug lopinavir-ritonavir before he was put into a coma in the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. He was given immunosuppressive drug tocilizumab for three days and his condition began to improve.

A total 348 people took part in the UK-wide University of Oxford trial at the hospital. Researchers found steroid dexamethasone and tocilizumab can reduce deaths while convalescent plasma and drugs lopinavir-ritonavir, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are not effective.

Mr Rowlands, who lost three stone while in hospital, explained, “Most of the time I wasn’t aware of what I was going through, but my family lived it real-time, so they were the ones who really suffered.  When I came home, I felt scared. I was in a wheelchair. I hadn’t been able to talk for ages. I had to learn how to walk again. I couldn’t breathe properly, I couldn’t get out of bed.  I feel really good now. I feel strong. I can run, I can work out, my lungs are clear. When I was in the ICU, my lungs were shutting down and my organs were failing. To come out of that relatively unscathed, I’m very lucky. I think it’s fantastic that drugs are now available to treat COVID-19 patients on the NHS. I’m proud to be part of a trial that helped find them.”

Leslie Mokogwu, Head of Research and Development at Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust, said: “A very big thank you to everyone who has participated in research including COVID-19 studies at our trust. All types of research are important in helping us to understand COVID-19 and shape our response to it. This would not be possible without your tireless support in contributing to clinical research. Thank you.

The NIHR is supporting 97 nationally-prioritised COVID-19 studies in the UK that have so far involved more than one million participants. Find out more at nihr.ac.uk/covid-studies.

People can learn more about COVID-19 research in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire in an online event on Thursday 20 May. The event will feature discussions with a researcher, patient and research nurse from 7pm to 8pm on Thursday 20 May. Register at tinyurl.com/tvcovid-20may.

Participating in health research helps develop new treatments, improve the NHS and save lives. The NHS supports research by asking patients and healthy volunteers if they wish to take part in trials to enable participants to access new NHS treatment and care options.

Patients are encouraged to learn more about research and search for studies seeking volunteers at www.bepartofresearch.uk