Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication, has been approved by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) as the first medicine to treat Covid-19.

The drug will be made available on the NHS to adults and adolescents hospitalised with severe coronavirus infection who meet ‘additional clinical criteria’.

Early data suggests the antiviral drug, which was originally developed to fight Ebola, can reduce recovery time for people with coronavirus by up to four days.

The drug is still undergoing clinical trials but has been established as safe enough for use for selected hospital patients, the MHRA has said.

Gilead will initially provide remdesivir to the NHS free of charge.

Both the US and Japan have similarly authorised the experimental treatment for emergency use for people with severe symptoms.

The US and Japan have already made similar arrangements to provide early access to medicine before they have a marketing agreement.

Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said: ‘This shows fantastic progress. As we navigate this unprecedented period, we must be on the front foot of the latest medical advancements, while always ensuring patient safety remains a top priority.

‘The latest, expert scientific advice is at the heart of every decision we make, and we will continue to monitor remdesivir’s success in clinical trials across the country to ensure the best results for UK patients.’

MHRA Chief Executive, Dr June Raine, said: ‘We are committed to ensuring that patients can have fast access to promising new treatments for Covid-19.

‘We will continue to work closely with the Department of Health and Social Care and other healthcare partners on protecting public health in the UK by prioritising our essential work on clinical trials, access to medicines, and the development of vaccines.