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New coronavirus breakthrough might be the game-changing treatment we need

Published Jul 20th, 2020 1:46PM EDT
Coronavirus Treatment
Image: AP Photo/John Minchillo

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  • A coronavirus treatment involving nebulizers that can deliver aerosols directly to the lungs of infected COVID-19 patients is seen as a significant breakthrough that could be a game-changer for the management of the pandemic.
  • Patients who inhaled interferon beta from a Synairgen nebulizer were significantly less likely to develop complications and experience shortness of breath during a clinical trial. They were also more likely to leave the hospital earlier than patients on other therapies.
  • Interferon has been used in other COVID-19 trials, with other researchers thinking that the substance could be key for treating COVID-19.
  • The UK company has not provided complete data for the trial, and regulators will need to approve the therapy. More research might be required to validate the initial investigation.

We’ve been waiting for a game-changing coronavirus treatment for months, and in that time, doctors have found several drugs that can be of significant use when it comes to fighting the novel virus. Blood thinners can prevent blood from clotting in key organs, including the lungs, brain, and heart. Remdesivir can reduce recovery time in patients experiencing mild to moderate disease. Dexamethasone can prevent deaths in patients experiencing severe COVID-19 complications. But none of these breakthroughs are real “game-changers.”

Several other COVID-19 therapies are in the works in various places, with some of these drugs already showing great promise. We’re looking both at existing drugs that have been repurposed for COVID-19 and brand new drugs explicitly created to combat the novel virus. On top of that, several promising vaccine candidates may help prevent the spread of the virus. One of the many teams conducting COVID-19 clinical trials reported preliminary results on Monday for a drug that seems to deliver the game-changing results we’ve been waiting for.

UK company Synairgen placed a protein called interferon beta inside a nebulizer that turned it into an aerosol. 101 COVID-19 patients across several hospitals used inhalers in a placebo-controlled trial, not knowing whether they were given the SNG001 test drug or whether they received a dose of placebo. Another 120 volunteers will be treated in home settings in the Phase 2 trial.

Anyone who has been following COVID-19 developments in recent months should be familiar with interferon. It’s a protein the human body creates to fight infections, and it’s also a drug used for other medical conditions. The virus can inhibit interferon cells that would be able to slow down the viral replication, a study showed in May, with researchers concluding that interferon-based therapies could work in COVID-19.

The World Health Organization (WHO) combined interferon beta with ritonavir/lopinavir in its large-scale Solidarity trial. Around the same time, reports said some doctors in Wuhan treated patients with interferon alpha-2b. Researchers from Hong Kong published promising results for a Phase 2 study in May that claimed interferon beta-1b, ritonavir/lopinavir, and ribavirin can be used together to eliminate the virus and speed-up recovery. During the same month, Stanford researchers started recruiting volunteers for a peginterferon lambda-1a study.

The Synairgen researchers say the interferon beta aerosol inhaled directly into the lungs of patients reduces the odds of a COVID-19 patient developing complications by 79%, such as requiring mechanical ventilation. Patients who received interferon were two to three times more likely to recover to the point where the illness would not impact everyday activities, the company said, per BBC. The study also showed “very significant” reductions in breathlessness in patients who received the treatment. Finally, the average time that patients spent in the hospital has been reduced by a third, from nine days to six days.

The scientists believe the drug could be even more effective if administered during the early stages of infection.

“We couldn’t have expected much better results than these,” Synairgen CEO Richard Marsden told the BBC. He said the results are “a major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalized Covid-19 patients.”

The results have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the BBC notes reports, so the findings can’t be confirmed. Moderna similarly released early information about its Phase 1 vaccine trial. Dr. Anthony Fauci also revealed the results of the first remdesivir study well before the study was ready. That doesn’t make the interferon therapy a guaranteed success. Early results of a first, limited hydroxychloroquine study in France convinced President Trump the drug would be a game-changer. The studies that followed proved the drug can’t treat or prevent the infectious disease.

Marsden said the company will present the findings to regulators around the world in the next couple of days to see what information they need to approve the treatment. The approval process may take months, even if it is fast-tracked. More research might be necessary, and more patients may be enrolled in future trials to confirm the early findings.

Synairgen says it can make a few hundred thousand doses a month by winter if the drug is approved.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.