A new treatment for coronavirus developed at Southampton University Hospital and produced by the Southampton-based biotech company, Synairgen is going into a large-scale trial phase.
It’s hoped that the treatment, interferon beta, will prevent Covid-19 patients from developing the more severe symptoms of the illness. The first patient, a woman of 34, received the treatment at the Hull Royal Infirmary on Tuesday 12th January. Early findings suggested the treatment could cut by almost 80 percent the chances of a Covid-19 patient in hospital developing the disease to such a severe extent that ventilation is required.
Interferon beta is a protein naturally produced by the body in response to infection. In this treatment the protein is inhaled in an aerosol spray from a nebuliser, with the aim of stimulating the body’s immune system to fight off the virus. The hope is that by administering the treatment directly to the lungs, it will trigger a strong anti-viral response even when the patient’s immune system is weakened.
The treatment results from research by a team from Southampton University into patients with lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) who proved to have low levels of interferon beta.
Interferon beta is commonly used in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis. A course of the treatment will cost around £2,000, not a high amount by NHS standards. Synairgen’s chief executive Richard Marsden said “To be viable it will have to represent good value for money.”
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The idea is that a direct dose of the protein in the lungs will trigger a stronger anti-viral response, even in patients whose immune systems are weakened. Trials have shown that it is safe for use by patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions.
Early results with small trial group show a reduction in breathlessness and faster recovery to full health, with a reduction in typical hospital stays from nine days to six days. The latest Phase Three trail will involve 600 patients in 20 countries, with half receiving a placebo to balance the results. The trail should be completed by early Summer, with authorisation for use expected to follow shortly afterwards.
If proved effective, the new drug could be used alongside current vaccine treatments in an effort to control the worst symptoms of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, other promising drugs such as hydroxychloroquine have proved to have little effect in long-term use, so there’s no guarantee that the interferon beta treatment will prove to be a game-changer.
Meanwhile, though a third coronavirus vaccine has been approved for use in the UK after the roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca and Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines.
The Moderna vaccine, developed in America, works in a similar way to the Pfizer vaccine already in use by the NHS, by injecting part of the virus’s genetic code RNA in order to provoke an immune response. It is claimed to provide up to 95 percent immunity, comparing well with the others.
The Modena vaccine requires temperatures of around -20C degrees for shipping and storage, between the normal refrigerator temperatures required by the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the super-low temperatures required by Pfier/BioNTech. Liek the others, the Moderna vaccine ideally requires two shots, though it is likely that the NHS will prioritise giving a first shot to as many patients as possible.
As many as 17 million doses of the Moderna vaccine have been ordered for use in the UK, but they are not expected to arrive until the Spring.
While there are still several other coronavirus vaccines in development, the Moderna vaccine is the last to have final triil data published for approval by medical authorities.
By Tuesday 12th January, around 2.2 million people, mainly over 80s and health care workers, had received a dose of one vaccine or the other in the UK. Daily vaccination statistics are published here.
Vaccines are being given to the most vulnerable first, as set out in a list of nine high-priority groups, covering around 30 million people in the UK.
The government aims to vaccinate 15 million people in the UK by mid-February, including care homes residents and staff, frontline NHS staff, everyone over 70 and those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Of the approval of the Moderna vaccine, Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This is further great news and another weapon in our arsenal to tame this awful disease.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccine deployment minister, said: “The NHS is pulling out all the stops to vaccinate those most at risk as quickly as possible, with over 1,000 vaccination sites live across the UK by the end of the week to provide easy access to everyone, regardless of where they live.
“The Moderna vaccine will be a vital boost to these efforts and will help us return to normal faster.”
The Moderna vaccine has also been approved for use in the EU and US.
Read here for more on current coronavirus restrictions and here for more on the new treatment for coronavirus developed at Southampton University Hospital and produced by the Southampton-based biotech company, Synairgen, going into a large-scale trial phase.