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A trial of a new inhaled antiviral drug for COVID-19 has shown positive results and the drug is now moving into a larger international phase 3 trial of hospitalised patients. MRC HIU's Professor Ling-Pei Ho is one of the main co-authors on the paper.

Digital illustration of a human with a transparent body and model of coloured lungs inside with coronavirus particle models.

A new treatment, a protein called interferon beta or SNG001, has been developed with results from the phase 2 trial published Lancet Respiratory Medicine. The study showed that hospitalised COVID-19 patients on nebulised interferon beta recovered quicker and that the drug was safe.

Interferon beta, produced naturally by the body when it gets a viral infection, is inhaled directly into the lungs of patients with coronavirus using a nebuliser, with the aim of reducing viral load and stimulating an immune response. Oxford University Hospitals contributed 10% of the patients in the phase 2 trial.

The large phase 3 trial, which is expected to involve 900 participants and take place in up to 20 NHS sites, has been deemed an urgent public health research study by the Department of Health and Social Care, and will be prioritised for set-up and delivery across the NHS by the NIHR Clinical Research Network over the coming months.

Professor Ho, of the MRC Human Immunology Unit (MRC HIU), said: “It was a race against time in those early days when so much was new and unclear. We needed to test the right drug, to get people together to get the clinical trial done, so we could decide on the next step.

“We anticipated that patient numbers would fall, so speed was of the essence. Oxford played a major role in the successful delivery of the trial both nationally and locally, and we are very pleased to see the publication of the paper.”

The double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled phase 2 trial assessed the efficacy and safety of inhaled SNG001 as a therapy for patients hospitalised with COVID-19. Patients were randomised to receive SNG001 or placebo by inhalation via a mouthpiece once daily for 14 days.

SNG001 was shown to be well-tolerated and patients who received the drug had greater odds of improvement and recovered more rapidly. Patients receiving SNG001 had greater odds of improvement and were more likely to recover to “no limitation of activity” during treatment There were three deaths in the placebo group and none in the SNG001 group.

Read the full story on the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Website

Learn more by joining the Webinar COVID-19: Translating immune understanding and collaboration into new therapeutic strategies: Interferon beta story.

The webinar will describe the translation of immune understanding of type I IFN’s role in defence against the virus to clinical trial and present the results from the early phase nebulised IFN study in hospitalised patients with COVID-19. Find out more on the registration page.