New corona drug seems to greatly reduce the risk of serious disease

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Corona patients taking the drug were 79% less likely to become seriously ill, according to British company Synairgen.

The company – founded by professors affiliated with the University of Southampton – relies on a clinical trial involving 101 corona patients. About half were given the drug – called SNG001 – and seemed to benefit enormously.

Interferon-β

SNG001 contains the protein Interferon-β. This protein occurs naturally in our bodies. The protein plays an important role in our immune system and can therefore also compete with, for example, SARS-CoV-2. However, research shows that coronaviruses such as SARS-CoV-2 have mechanisms that suppress the production of these proteins. In addition, there is evidence that people who produce less of these proteins in their lungs are more susceptible to serious lung problems when they contract a respiratory infection.

It brought the researchers to an interesting idea. What if we give people extra of these proteins? The result is SNG001, a drug that houses Interferon-β and is administered via an inhaler, so the proteins are delivered directly into the lungs.

Promising

In recent months, the drug has been tested among a small group of subjects. And so the results are promising. Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen even speaks cautiously of ‘a big breakthrough’. “Our efforts are now focused on working with regulators and other key groups to ensure that this possible treatment is further developed as soon as possible.”

The study

The optimism is based on a study in which 101 corona patients participated. The subjects were nursed in nine different British hospitals between 30 March and 27 May. Half of the subjects were treated with SNG001. The other half received a placebo. And SNG001 seems to be making quite a mark on the course of the disease. For example, corona patients were more likely to become seriously ill – that is, that they had to go on life support or even die – a whopping 79% less in the sng001 treated group. “It has also been shown that patients receiving SNG001 were twice as likely to recover in such a way that their everyday activities were not hindered by the fact that they were infected by SARS-CoV-2,” Marsden said. “In addition, SNG001 has significantly reduced breathlessness – one of the main symptoms of a severe form of COVID-19.”

“The results confirm our belief that Interferon-β – a well-known drug that has already been approved for many other purposes in the form of injections – has enormous potential by restoring the immune response of the lungs as an inhaled drug, providing greater protection against SARS-CoV-2, promoting recovery and limiting the impact of SARS-CoV-2,” concludes Professor Tom Wilkinson, university of Southampton.

Shorter treatment

According to Synairgen, the study further indicates that patients who were already quite ill (and needed extra oxygen) at the time they were admitted to hospital and started their treatment with SNG001 were already quite ill (and needed extra oxygen) to leave the hospital slightly faster than people who received a placebo.

The clinical trial also suggests that the positive effects of SNG001 are in no way related to the duration of symptoms. In other words, the treatment not only pays off in people who start with it shortly after the first symptoms, but can also make a difference for people who start treatment a little later.” Our inhaled treatment involving locally high concentrations of Interferon-β, a naturally occurring antiviral protein, to be administered, allows the lungs to re-establish this virus – or a mutated version of it, or a co-infection with another respiratory virus, such as flu or the RS virus, as we can encounter it in winter when COVID-19 resurrage,” concludes Stephen Holgate, associate professor at the University of Southampton and co-founder of Synair.

The investigation into SNG001 will continue in the coming weeks. Studies among larger groups of people will then have to show whether the drug can really make such a big difference as this small-scale study suggests.

Independent scientists call the preliminary results released today exciting, but also have their caveats. This is mainly due to the fact that the results were only released in a press release and press conference and were not published in a scientific journal. This makes it very difficult to verify the results – but also the study design.

They also point out that this is a small-scale study and that you should not draw too big conclusions on that basis. “Many more patients need to be recruited and any adverse effects (of treatment, ed.) carefully evaluated,” stresses Professor Stephen Evans, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and not involved in the research. Professor Naveed Sattar, from the University of Glasgow, sees it the same way. “The results seem promising and although the research with just over 100 subjects is small-scale (…) it can be a game changer. It would be good to see the full results – after they have undergone peer review – and to assure us that they are robust and the study set-up is correct.

Moreover, with smaller numbers (subjects, ed.) it is more difficult to be able to say for sure about the benefits of the treatment and to find out whether the benefits of human-to-human treatment – depending on the risk profile – differ. This requires a larger-scale investigation, but for now the results are exciting.”