A protein treatment that can be inhaled directly into the lungs has been shown to “accelerate recovery” and reduce the odds of developing severe Covid-19 in hospital patients, scientists have said.
Results of a UK clinical trial suggest patients who received the drug, known as SNG001, were more than twice as likely to recover from Covid-19, compared to those who received a placebo – a substance designed to have no therapeutic value.
Developed by Southampton-based biotech Synairgen, SNG001 contains interferon beta-1a – a protein the body naturally produces when it gets a viral infection.
The protein is inhaled by Covid-19 patients using a nebuliser, in the hope that it will stimulate an immune response.
The researchers said their findings, published in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, serves as proof-of-concept that SNG001 could help Covid-19 patients in hospital recover.
But they added further research is required with larger randomised clinical trials as the study involved a small group of 98 volunteers.
Professor Tom Wilkinson, from the University of Southampton, who led the study said: “The results confirm our belief that interferon beta, a widely known drug approved for use in its injectable form for other indications, may have the potential as an inhaled drug to restore the lung’s immune response and accelerate recovery from Covid-19.
“Inhaled interferon beta-1a provides high, local concentrations of the immune protein, which boosts lung defences rather than targeting specific viral mechanisms.
“This might carry additional advantages of treating Covid-19 infection when it occurs alongside infection by another respiratory virus, such as influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) that may well be encountered in the winter months.”
In the clinical trial, 48 participants were given the drug while the rest got a placebo.
As the trial was double-blind, neither the researchers nor the patients knew what they are getting.
Over the 14-day treatment period, patients who received SNG001 were more than twice as likely to recover, compared to those in the placebo group, the researchers said.
Writing in a linked comment, Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, from Assistance Publique – Hopitaux de Paris, France, who was not involved in the research, said: “The number of patients enrolled in this pilot clinical trial is of course small.
“In addition, this study neither showed any impact of the evaluated treatment on time to discharge nor on mortality, although the study was obviously not powered to respond to the latter question.
“Larger randomised clinical trials are therefore needed to confirm these results.”
He also added that the safety of inhaling interferon beta-1a using a nebuliser “will be of special interest since nebulisation of interferon has no marketing authorisation for any indication yet”.