Coronavirus treatment set for clinical trials in UK

An experimental drug to help the most vulnerable sufferers of coronavirus is due to be trialled in the UK (Pictures: AP/EPA)

Clinical trials to find a treatment for Covid-19 will start soon as scientists race to curb the pandemic.

There is no specific treatment for coronavirus at this point in time, with current medication aiming to relieve symptoms. 

But researchers from the University of Southampton will soon trial an inhaled drug developed to prevent severe lower respiratory tract illness caused by cold and flu infections when they spread to the lungs.

The experimental drug could help people most at risk and has been shown in the past to improve the condition of asthma and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) patients who are suffering from other lung infections.

An image of COVID-19 is shown taped to the door of the office of Dr. Lisa Jackson, a senior investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Seattle (Picture: AP)
A man wears a face mask on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh (Picture: PA)

Previous trials on people suffering from asthma have demonstrated that the drug is well-tolerated, enhances the lungs’ antiviral defences and improves lung function during cold or flu infection.

Those on the trial will receive the current care recommended for coronavirus, as well as inhaling either a placebo or SNG001, a special formulation of the naturally occurring antiviral protein interferon beta 1a (IFN-beta), for 14 days.

Undertaken with drug development company Synairgen, the experiment will involve 100 patients at Southhampton and up to 10 other NHS hospitals.

More: Coronavirus

While finding a coronavirus vaccine is key, vulnerable patients need ‘effective frontline treatments’ as pressure on the health system mounts, Tom Wilkinson, professor of respiratory medicine in the faculty of medicine and a consultant in respiratory medicine at University Hospital Southampton has said.

Richard Marsden, chief executive of Synairgen, has added that the company has ‘worked intensively’ with the relevant authorities and collaborators to enable SNG001 to be assessed in Covid-19 patients and looked forward to successful outcome from the trial.

Prof Ian Hall, professor of molecular medicine, University of Nottingham, said: ‘The Synairgen trial, which has been given expedited approval by the regulatory authorities, involves administering a drug called interferon beta, which is a molecule which forms part of the lungs’ own defence mechanism to fight off viruses.

‘The idea behind the trial is that by giving more of this molecule to the lung this could help reduce the severity of infection with Covid-19, especially in those people who have reduced immune responses to the virus.’

Brazilian scientist in the Immunology laboratory of the Heart Institute (Incor) of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Sao Paulo, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 17 March 2020 (Picture: EPA)
Commuters wear masks as a precaution whilst travelling on a London Underground train in the morning in central London on March 18, 2020 as people take precautions amid the coronavirus (Picture: AFP)

It comes as other researchers around the world work on developing various specific medications to treat coronavirus.

This includes treatments such as Chloroquine which is usually used to treat malaria, and Remdesivir which is a potent antiviral in current development as an anti-Ebola virus treatment.

The NHS currently advises people to take paracetamol to relieve symptoms of coronavirus, unless they have been told by doctors not to.

A clinical trial to test a coronavirus vaccine was said to begin in the US on Monday, but health officials have said it will take a year to validate any vaccine and make it widely available to the public.

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