Ivermectin is currently used to treat parasite infections like head lice and scabies.
Researchers at Oxford University are looking into whether a drug normally used to fight infections from parasites can be used to treat those infected with Covid-19.
Ivermectin led to a reduction of virus replication in laboratory analysis and a pilot study showed the drug could also reduce viral load and symptom duration in patients with mild Covid-19.
The PRINCIPLE study will look at the efficacy of the treatment which has been used in Latin America and South Africa during the pandemic.
The use of ivermectin has been controversial as there is “little evidence … to demonstrate that it can speed up recovery from the illness or reduce hospital admission” in large-scale randomised studies, according to Oxford researchers.
Professor Chris Butler, from the University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, said the study would look to test its efficacy.
He said: “Ivermectin is readily available globally, has been in wide use for many other infectious conditions so it’s a well known medicine with a good safety profile, and because of the early promising results in some studies it is already being widely used to treat Covid-19 in several countries.
“By including ivermectin in a large-scale trial like Principle, we hope to generate robust evidence to determine how effective the treatment is against Covid-19, and whether there are benefits or harms associated with its use.”
The study is part of a wider one which is evaluating treatments that can help people aged over 50 recover more quickly from coronavirus and prevent the need for hospital admission, and ivermectin is the seventh drug to be analysed.
Participants will be given a three-day course of treatment and then followed-up for 28 days with comparisons drawn against those who have been given standard NHS care.