Could an inhaler fight off coronavirus? UK experts are hoping a home treatment could be the answer
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London - British scientists have developed a coronavirus inhaler designed to help patients fight off the disease as soon as symptoms start to show.
In a trial launched on Tuesday, researchers at University Hospital Southampton will send inhalers to 120 virus victims to use at home.
The researchers hope the technology – which uses an experimental drug that boosts the immune system – will stop people entering the drastic deterioration phase of the illness. This is when patients develop breathing problems and are rushed to hospital.
In the trial, patients will be assessed and tested within 72 hours of developing symptoms and sent the inhaler straight away to tackle the virus.
If the inhaler works Synairgen, the Southampton-based firm behind the drug, hope to be producing millions of doses by the end of the year.
At the moment there is no at-home treatment for Covid-19 and anyone who shows symptoms or tests positive for the virus is told to self-isolate.
The inhaler – which uses a drug code named SNG001 – could make a difference by allowing sufferers the ability to treat themselves rather than just hope for the best. The team have almost completed a trial involving 100 hospital patients, with results due in July.
But the new test which helps people at home is where the treatment could make the biggest difference.
Study leader Professor Nick Francis said: "We are in need of a treatment for Covid-19 that can be given to patients early in the course of the illness in order to prevent progression to severe symptoms."
The patients who have a severe case of Covid-19 tend to develop serious symptoms – such as breathing problems and pneumonia – in the second week after contracting the virus.
Richard Marsden, head of Synairgen, said: "We can stop people from having that bad second week. Boris Johnson had that problem – it was that second week when he was in hospital. That seems to be the pattern – it’s about day ten when people are getting into big trouble. They move from flu-like symptoms to being extremely breathless and having pneumonia."
SNG001 contains a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce when we get a viral infection.
Interferon beta is already used as an injection to boost the immune response of people with multiple sclerosis.
But if the drug is inhaled via a handheld nebuliser – a device to turn it into a fine mist – it can be delivered directly to the lungs where it can help fight Covid-19.
And from Tuesday, the trial will enable participants to use the nebuliser in their own home to hopefully treat the virus.
The sample includes over-65s – or those aged 50 and over with underlying health conditions – who live within 40 miles of Southampton. The patients with symptoms will be assessed via video call and sent a coronavirus test, which will then be returned to a lab at the hospital.
Patients with a positive sample will then be sent a treatment box containing the nebuliser as well as a pulse oximeter, to measure oxygen saturation, and a thermometer to record their vital signs.
Participants will take a puff of the nebuliser once a day for 14 days, at which point they will be assessed via video link.
Doctors will carry out another call after 14 days to ensure there is no relapse.
If the trial is successful, it will be up to drug regulators to decide whether a licence can be issued or further research is needed. The researchers hope a strong result will allow the treatment to be rolled out immediately.
Marsden said: "We are aiming to be in a position to provide millions of doses later this year."