Amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, scientists and health experts race to develop drugs and vaccines against the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Many scientists resorted to repurposing approved drugs to be used on infected patients to help them recover.
Now, a team of researchers at the Synairgen Research, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton, United Kingdom, has found that inhaled nebulized interferon beta-1a (SNG001), a drug used for multiple sclerosis, helped COVID-19 patients have greater odds of improvement and recovery from SARS-CoV-2 infection.
The drug reduced the odds of developing severe disease or dying by 79 percent, the researchers wrote in their research paper.
Interferon-beta (IFN-beta) for COVID-19
Interferon-beta (IFN-beta) is a naturally occurring protein, which coordinates the body’s antiviral responses. Recent evidence showed that low levels of IFN-beta production by the lung could explain the enhanced susceptibility of these patients to developing severe lung disease amid respiratory lung infections.
Also, viruses such as the coronavirus have evolved mechanisms to suppress endogenous IFN-beta production, helping the virus evade the innate immune system. In laboratory studies, IFN-beta has shown to protect cells from infection with many types of respiratory viruses, including coronaviruses, like the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2), and the recent SARS-CoV-2.
Synairgen developed a formulation of IFN-beta, known as SNG001, through a nebule to treat and prevent lower respiratory tract (LRT) diseases caused by respiratory viruses. The researchers have already trialed the drug for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In these diseases, the drug has been well-tolerated and was able to enhance lung antiviral defenses.
In the study, published in the journal The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, the researchers assessed the effectiveness and safety of inhaled nebulized interferon beta-1a (SNG001) for the treatment of patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19.
The team conducted a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial at nine hospitals across the United Kingdom. The trial involved 98 patients between March and May. The patients were randomly assigned to receive the inhaled interferon beta-1a formulation SNG001 or a placebo once a day for 14 days.
The study findings showed that the patients who received SNG001 were twice as likely to improve clinically at day 15 or 16 than those who received a placebo. At the start of the study, 37 patients in the SNG001 group and 29 in the placebo group required supplemental oxygen.
Further, of the 50 who received the placebo, 22 percent became severely ill and needed mechanical ventilation or died, compared with 6 of the 48 patients who were given the SNG001. All the patients who received the drug survived, while three patients in the placebo group succumbed to the infection.
Interestingly, the team also revealed that those patients who received the SNG001 were more than three times more likely to recover from the disease, resuming activities at 28 days., compared to the placebo group.
“SNG001, a treatment already studied and shown to be well tolerated in patients with asthma and COPD, also seems to be well tolerated in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, with a range of clinical outcomes displaying a beneficial pattern of response to SNG001 therapy,” the team concluded in the study.
“The findings of this trial suggest the potential utility of SNG001 in treating patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19, although SNG001 should be explored further in a phase 3 trial,” the team added.
The study highlights the need for an effective and well-tolerated drug to reduce mortality from COVID-19. So far, the virus has infected over 54 million people across the globe, with more than 1.31 million deaths.