Rapidly repurposed antiviral lung therapy

Rapidly repurposed antiviral lung therapy

January 2021 and the second wave of the pandemic saw inhaled Interferon beta enter phase III COVID-19 therapy trials, opening the prospect of a drug that can stop the flow of declining patients into Intensive Care Units (ICUs), and hasten recovery from illness.

Building on early phase data demonstrating up to 80% better odds of avoiding ICU for hospitalised COVID-19 patients treated with IFN beta compared with standard care, this global multicentre trial is led, like the early phase trials, by BRC respiratory research theme lead Tom Wilkinson.

Inhaled interferon beta is a naturally occurring antiviral protein. It has been developed by BRC investigators and University of Southampton spin-out company Synairgen over two decades as an inhaled therapy for preventing and limiting exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease triggered by respiratory viruses.

At the start of the pandemic, the potential for interferon beta to improve outcomes of COVID-19 was clear, with BRC and local R&D teams working at unprecedented speed to support the expedited approvals and setup of a pilot trial within just two weeks.

Drawing on the rapid viral testing capabilities developed by Southampton researcher Tristan Clark the IFN study, supported by the NIHR RTRC rapidly recruited 100 patients with proven COVID-19.

The longstanding programme of respiratory research via NIHR Southampton BRC, and the BRC's tight integration with R&D, clinical and academic teams meant that the programme could pivot rapidly to face the challenges of COVID 19 and explore the potential for this new treatment to dramatically improve outcomes for patients with this life threatening condition.