Interferon beta trialled as COVID-19 treatment

Knowledge
15 Jan 2021

Interferon beta, a well known treatment amongst the multiple sclerosis (MS) community, is being trialled as a treatment option for people with coronavirus. The hope is it will stimulate the immune system, priming cells to be ready to fight off viruses.

The aim is to treat patients who are hospitalised with COVID-19 in order to reduce the severity of their symptoms.

Early findings suggest the treatment could reduce the likelihood of a patient developing a more severe form of COVID, such as that requiring ventilation, by 80% whilst those treated were more than twice as likely to make a full recovery. Trials have also seen a marked reduction in breathlessness in patients, and a speedier discharge from hospital than those receiving a placebo.

Interferon beta (IFNβ) is a cytokine that is naturally produced by the immune system in response to early stimuli that the body is under attack from a virus. The coronavirus appears to suppress its production, reducing the body's early immune response to the virus.

The new form of the drug has been developed at Southampton University Hospital by locally-based biotech company Synairgen and formulated as an aerosol. The protein travels through a nebuliser and is delivered directly to the respiratory system.

The expectation is that directly dosing the lungs with interferon beta will trigger a stronger antiviral response, even in patients whose immune systems are already weak.

Read early research into interferon-beta for COVID-19 in the Lancet last Spring, the Synairgen press release here, and the published findings in the Lancet Respiratory Medicine in November 2020.