LONDON (VINnews) — A new treatment for COVID-19 could dramatically reduce the number of patients requiring intensive care, according to its UK developers.
The treatment, discovered by the Synairgen biotech company situated in Southampton, involves the usage of a protein named interferon beta which is produced by the body when it is suffering from viral infection. The protein is inhaled by patients using a nebulizer, a machine which helps to breathe in a medicine as a mist through a mask or a mouthpiece. It is hoped that using the nebulizer which can deliver a direct dose of the protein to the lungs will trigger a stronger anti-viral response, even in patients whose immune systems are already weak. The drug itself is not new and is commonly used already in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
Preliminary results were promising. The treatment- named SNG001 – reduced the odds of COVID-19 patients requiring ventilation by 79%. The trial also demonstrated that patients who received SNG001 were more than twice as likely to recover from COVID-19 as those on placebo.
Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen, said: “We are all delighted with the trial results announced today, which showed that SNG001 greatly reduced the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients who progressed from ‘requiring oxygen’ to ‘requiring ventilation’. It also showed that patients who received SNG001 were at least twice as likely to recover to the point where their everyday activities were not compromised through having been infected by SARS-CoV-2. In addition, SNG001 has significantly reduced breathlessness, one of the main symptoms of severe COVID-19. This assessment of SNG001 in COVID-19 patients could signal a major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Our efforts are now focused on working with the regulators and other key groups to progress this potential COVID-19 treatment as rapidly as possible.”
The double-blind trial involved 101 volunteers with equal who had been admitted for treatment at nine different UK hospitals suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. The two control groups were evenly matched in terms of average age. Half of the participants were given the drug, the other received the placebo.
The results have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal but Professor Tom Wilkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton and Trial Chief Investigator, said that “the results confirm our belief that interferon beta, a widely known drug that, by injection, has been approved for use in a number of other indications, has huge potential as an inhaled drug to be able to restore the lung’s immune response, enhancing protection, accelerating recovery and countering the impact of SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
The company will present its findings to medical regulators worldwide in an attempt to verify what information is required to complete the approval of the treatment. The process could take months although many governments could give emergency approval as has been done with other promising treatments against the virus.
How does the treatment work?
Interferon beta is part of the body’s first line of defence against viruses, warning it to expect a viral attack.
The coronavirus seems to suppress its production as part of its strategy to evade our immune systems.
The new drug is a special formulation of interferon beta delivered directly to the airways via a nebuliser which makes the protein into an aerosol.
The idea is that a direct dose of the protein in the lungs will trigger a stronger anti-viral response, even in patients whose immune systems are already weak.
Interferon beta is commonly used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis.
Previous clinical trials conducted by Synairgen have shown that it can stimulate an immune response and that patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions can comfortably tolerate the treatment.
How was the treatment tested?
No-one involved in the trial knew which patients have been given which treatment until it was over.
“If you know it’s a drug, your mind might have a bias,” explained Sandy Aitken, one of the nurses who administered the new drug to patients at Southampton Hospital.
Synairgen’s drug trial was the template for the Accord programme, a fast-track clinical trial scheme set up by the UK government in April to accelerate the development of new drugs for patients with Covid-19.
The Synairgen team believes the drug could be even more effective at the early stages of infection.
A trial exploring the effects of giving patients who are in high-risk groups the new drug as soon as they are confirmed as having Covid-19 has struggled to find volunteers because there are so few new infections at the moment.