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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: A trial has begun in the UK of a new treatment to stop the development of severe symptoms in COVID-19 patients.
The treatment involves inhaling a protein called interferon beta, commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis, in order to stimulate the immune system before the virus can take hold.
Using a nebulizer, the drug is turned into a mist, making it easy to inhale, with each course currently costing around £2,000 ($2,733) to produce.
Early research found the treatment could cut the rate of serious cases of COVID-19 developing in patients by as much as 80 percent.
Synairgen, the UK company manufacturing the drug, said in a trial of 100 people, patients were up to three times more likely to be able to return to everyday activities quickly after completing the course, and hospital stays were reduced by a third.
“To be viable, it will have to represent good value for money,” said Synairgen’s CEO Richard Marsden.
The new trial will involve 600 patients, and is set to include people in 19 other countries, with half of participants receiving the drug and the rest a placebo.
The trial is set to be completed by this summer, and the drug could be approved for use before the end of the year.
The effectiveness of interferon beta against COVID-19 was first discovered by scientists at the University of Southampton while researching its uses against other lung diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The university’s Prof. Tom Wilkinson, overseeing the trial, said: “If we had a positive study, we would hope to move rapidly into scaled manufacture and delivery of the drug in clinical practice.”
He added that the development of alternatives to vaccines is essential as it could take years for the whole world to be inoculated against COVID-19, and that there would be many people unable or unwilling to receive a jab.
The threat of virus mutation and resistance to current vaccines also increases the need for alternative treatments, he said.
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