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Massive research into recycled MS drug for Covid begins at the hospital in Hull

Scientists think they have found an inhaler (photo) that blocks coronavirus progression in the lungs

Scientists think they have found an inhaler (photo) that blocks coronavirus progression in the lungs

A large-scale study has begun at a hospital in Hull into a recycled multiple sclerosis drug that researchers hope will greatly reduce the likelihood of coronavirus patients becoming seriously ill.

The first patient in the trial with a drug known as SNG001 received treatment at Hull Royal Infirmary on Tuesday.

Previous studies showed promising results: Only 13 percent of patients received intensive care treatment, compared with 22 percent who received a placebo.

Patients treated with the drug were also twice as likely to recover after two weeks than those who didn’t, according to research from Southampton University.

SNG001 uses a naturally occurring protein called interferon beta that the body makes to fight viral infections.

Interferon beta is a treatment for multiple sclerosis and is usually given by injection. But SNG001 is inhaled into the lungs with a nebulizer to elicit a stronger, more targeted antiviral response.

Kaye Flitney was one of 98 people who took part in the clinical trial led by Southampton University last year

Kaye Flitney was one of 98 people who took part in the clinical trial led by Southampton University last year

Kaye Flitney was one of 98 people who took part in the clinical trial led by Southampton University last year

Scientists believe Covid-19 shuts down the immune system’s ability to produce the protein in high doses, with the new treatment providing the lungs with an essential ‘replenishment’.

The drug was developed by employees of Southampton University Hospital and is produced by biotech company Synairgen.

Treating a patient can cost around £ 2,000 which is considered relatively inexpensive compared to alternatives.

At Hull Royal Infirmary, Alexandra Constantin, 34, was the first person to receive treatment as part of this retrial, after being hospitalized with coronavirus on Monday, the BBC reported.

The latest study of the treatment was published in November in the journal Lancet Respiratory Medicine and examined 98 hospitalized patients with the virus between March and May, at the height of the UK epidemic.

WHAT IS SNG001?

SNG001 uses the protein interferon beta, which our body produces during a viral infection.

It is inhaled directly into the lungs with an inhaler, which is thought to cause a stronger, more targeted antiviral response.

Scientists believe Covid-19 shuts down the immune system’s ability to produce the protein in high doses, with the new treatment providing the lungs with an essential ‘replenishment’.

The drug was developed by Southampton-based pharmaceutical company Synairgen and tested by researchers at the city’s university.

Interferon beta itself is not new, but the technique with which it is administered is.

The protein is given by injection to patients with multiple sclerosis.

Studies with injectable interferon beta on Covid-19 have been fruitless.

SNG001 is inhaled into the lungs with a nebulizer.

The new studies are being conducted by the University of Southampton to see if giving it to Covid-19 patients before they are hospitalized will help.

If this turns out to be the case, this opens the door for patients to be able to treat themselves at home with a special inhaler.

They were divided in two, with one group receiving the new treatment and the other group receiving a placebo.

The trial was conducted double-blind, meaning that neither the researchers nor the 98 patients knew who was receiving SNG001.

In the placebo group, 11 (22 percent) of the 50 patients were transferred to the ICU or required mechanical ventilation after fourteen days. Three eventually died.

Of those who received SNG001, only six (13 percent) of the 48 patients developed serious illness and there were no deaths.

Patients taking the drug were also twice as likely to regain full health by the end of the two-week period.

A total of 21 (44 percent) in the SNG001 group recovered during that time, compared to 11 (22 percent) patients in the placebo group.

Lead author Professor Tom Wilkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton, said: ‘The results confirm our belief that interferon beta, a well-known drug approved for use in its injectable form for other indications, may have the potential inhaled drug to restore the immune response of the lungs and accelerate the recovery of Covid-19.

Inhaled interferon beta-1a produces high, local concentrations of the immune protein, which strengthens lung defenses instead of targeting specific viral mechanisms.

“This could have additional benefits in the treatment of Covid-19 infection when it occurs alongside infection by another respiratory virus, such as influenza or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which may occur in the winter months.”

The authors admitted that their study, while promising, had several limitations – most notably the small sample size.

There were also differences between the two groups in recruitment: patients in the SNG001 group had more severe disease at baseline and more patients had high blood pressure.

While in the placebo group there were a higher number of patients with diabetes and heart disease.

Diabetes and heart disease are two conditions that can make Covid-19 more deadly, which may have skewed the results of the study.

Dr. Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, an expert in internal medicine and infectious diseases at Imperial College Londo, said larger studies should be able to address these limitations.

In response to the study, he said: ‘The number of patients participating in this clinical pilot trial is of course small.

In addition, this study did not show any impact of the evaluated treatment on time to discharge nor on mortality, although the study clearly lacked the strength to answer the latter question.

“Therefore, larger randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm these results.”

He also added that the safety of inhaling interferon beta-1a using a nebuliser “will be of particular concern as interferon nebulization does not yet require marketing authorization for any indication”.

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