Coronavirus inhaler treatment ‘slashes risk of severe disease by 79%’, scientists discover

COVID-19 could be stopped in its tracks by an inhaler treatment that slashes the risk of severe cases of the illness by 79 per cent.

Hospital patients who received the treatment as part of a study were found to be more than twice as likely to recover from the coronavirus than those who received a placebo.

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The drug, known as SNG001 was developed by pharmaceutical company Synairgen.

Previous studies showed that the drug enhances the lungs’ antiviral defence in asthmatic patients.

It also improves lung function during a cold or flu infection.

The trial was carried out on a double-blind and placebo-controlled basis.

This meant that neither the researchers nor the 101 patients knew whether they were receiving SNG001, a special formulation of the naturally occurring anti-viral protein interferon beta 1a (IFN-beta), or a placebo.

A 79 per cent reduction in disease severity could be a game changer

Results and analysis found that the odds of patients needing ventilation or developing severe cases of the illness resulting in death – during the treatment period of up to 16 days were reduced by 79 per cent for patients receiving the drug compared with patients who received the placebo.

Over the treatment period, the measure of breathlessness was markedly reduced in patients who received SNG001.

Synairgen said that three people died after being randomly assigned the placebo, while there were no deaths among those who received the drug.

In patients with more severe disease at time of admission, SNG001 treatment increased the likelihood of hospital discharge during the study, but researchers say the difference was not statistically significant.


Professor Tom Wilkinson, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Southampton and trial chief investigator, said he is "delighted with the positive data produced from this trial".

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."

The inhaler was developed in May and 120 inhalers were sent out to Covid patients for home trialling.

Professor Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council clinical professor of immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton and co-founder of Synairgen added that the treatment "restores the lungs' ability to neutralise the virus.

He added: "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."

Experts said they were impressed with the results but cautioned that the test sample of just over 100 patients was relatively small.

Prof Naveed Sattar, Professor of Metabolic Medicine, University of Glasgow, said:

“A 79 per cent reduction in disease severity could be a game changer.

"It would be good to see the full results once presented and peer-reviewed to make sure they are robust and the trial conduct was rigorous.

"Also, with small numbers comes less certainty on the true level of benefit, or whether benefits vary between people with differing risk characteristics. Such work would require a larger trial but, even so, these results are very exciting.”


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