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Coronavirus ‘breakthrough’ as inhaled drug treatment slashes ICU admissions by 79%

Coronavirus ‘breakthrough’ as inhaled drug treatment slashes the number of infected patients needing intensive care by 79%

  • Drug – known as SNG001 – trialled on 100  hospitalised Covid-19 patients in UK
  • Uses a protein called interferon beta which body produces to fight off viruses
  • Inhaled directly into the lungs using a nebuliser to boost immune response

Scientists believe they have found an inhaler (pictured) that blocks coronavirus from progressing in the lungs

An inhaled drug that clears coronavirus in the lungs can prevent three in four patients from falling seriously ill with the disease, according to scientists trialling the experimental treatment. 

Initial results from the trial of more than 100 hospitalised Covid-19 patients found it prevented 79 per cent of people from needing intensive care.

The treatment also slashed the average time patients spent in hospital by a third, down from an average of nine days to just six. 

The drug – known as SNG001 – uses a protein called interferon beta which the body produces when it gets a viral infection.

It has been developed by Southampton-based pharmaceutical firm Synairgen and trialled by researchers from the city’s university.

The treatment sees patients inhale the drug directly into the lungs using a nebuliser, where it helps the immune system fight off viral infection.  

The preliminary results from the trial haven’t yet been verified because the research hasn’t been published in a scientific journal or scrutinised by other scientists.

But independent experts say it would ‘represent by far the biggest breakthrough in Covid-19 treatment to date’ if the results are verified.

The only drug scientifically proven to treat the disease at present is a £5 steriod known as dexamethasone, which slashes death rates by up to a third.

Kaye Flitney is one of the 101 people enrolled in the clinical trial carried out by British pharmaceutical firm Synairgen

Kaye Flitney is one of the 101 people enrolled in the clinical trial carried out by British pharmaceutical firm Synairgen

Because Southampton-based Synairgen is a publicly traded company, it was obligated to release the preliminary results due to stock market rules.

The trial involved 101 Covid-19 patients who had been admitted at nine UK hospitals and required oxygen support. Half of the recruits were given the drug, while the rest took a placebo. 

The trial was carried out on a double blind basis, meaning neither the researchers nor the 101 patients knew who was receiving SNG001.

It found the odds of developing severe disease – needing ventilation or dying – was reduced by 79 per cent in those receiving the drug compared to the control group.  

SNG001 uses a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce during a viral infection. The inhaler turns SNG001 into a fine mist so it can be breathed deep into the lungs.

Interferon beta is already used as an injection to boost the immune response of people with multiple sclerosis. 

The trial’s chief investigator, Tom Wilkinson, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton, said if the results are replicated in larger studies it will be ‘a game changer’. 

He added: ‘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 lungs’ immune response, enhancing protection, accelerating recovery and countering the impact of Sars-CoV-2 virus.’

Stephen Holgate, professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton and co-founder of Synairgen, said the treatment ‘restores the lungs’ ability to neutralise the virus, or any mutation of the virus or co-infection with another respiratory virus such as influenza or RSV, as could be encountered in the winter if there is a resurgence of Covid-19.’