In Britain, a large-scale trial of a promising new treatment has begun, which is hoped to help stop the development of severe disease symptoms in patients with Covid-19.
The first patient received this treatment on Tuesday afternoon.
Treatment includes inhaling a type of protein called interferon beta, which is a protein that the body produces when infected with a viral infection.
Doctors hope this protein will stimulate immune system cells to be ready to fight the virus.
Preliminary results indicate that the treatment reduced the chances of developing severe disease symptoms in hospitalized Covid-19 patients – such as those requiring the use of artificial respirators – by nearly 80 percent.
The treatment was developed at Southampton University Hospital and started production by the biochemistry company Synergen, headquartered in Southampton.
The cost of a new course of treatment may reach about 2,000 pounds, which is not expensive in comparison to hospital fees.
“For a ‘treatment’ to be valuable it must deliver an achievement of value for the money paid for it,” said Synergeanne CEO Richard Marsden.
Alexandra Konstantin, 34, was the first person to receive treatment as part of her new experience of using it, after she was hospitalized as a result of being infected with the Coronavirus on Monday.
She says she has a little daughter at home and is anxious to get back with her.
To use the treatment, the nurse gave her a spray that converts the drug into small particles closer to a fine mist, and Alexandra inhaled it as deeply as she could, into deep into her lungs.
How does the treatment work?
Interferon beta is part of the body’s defense line against viruses, and it warns it of any expected virus attack.
The Corona virus appears to be dampening its production as part of its strategy to evade the immune system.
The new treatment contains a special combination of interferon beta that is inserted directly into the airways through a spray that turns the protein into a mist that can be inhaled.
The idea behind the treatment is that injecting a dose of protein directly into the lung will stimulate a strong immune response, even if patients’ immune systems are weak.
Interferon beta is commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis (a disease of the nervous system).
Previous clinical trials by Synergine showed that the treatment could stimulate an immune response, making it easier for people with asthma and other chronic lung diseases to comfortably tolerate the treatment.
The results of the second part of a similar clinical trial last year were promising.
And it showed that the chances of severe symptoms appearing in hospitalized Covid-19 patients, such as those that require the use of artificial respirators, have decreased by nearly 80 percent.
The producer claims that the likelihood that patients will be cured, to the point where their daily activities are not affected by disease, has increased by two to three times.
The company says: The experience showed a “very significant” decrease in the incidence of shortness of breath in patients who received the treatment. In addition, reducing the average time that patients spend in the hospital to a third, as the rate decreased from nine days to six days, for those who received the new treatment.
However, the treatment was tried on a small, limited number, 100 patients only, and the treatment needs more tests to be approved for use.
The new trial, the “third phase” in testing the treatment, was conducted on a larger scale, involving more than 600 patients in 20 countries.
As in the previous experiment, half of the patients will be given the drug, while the second half will receive what is known as a placebo, that is, other inactive substances, to compare the two.
The team carrying out the experiment says it hopes it will be completed before the start of summer.
If the results are close to the quality of the results of the previous trial, the team expects to authorize the use of the treatment for patients in Britain and other countries soon after.
Professor Tom Wilkinson of the University of Southampton, who is overseeing the trial, said: “If the trial results are positive, we hope to move quickly to the level of manufacturing and distributing the drug in a wider clinical trial.”
He added that he believed that the new drug – if proven effective – would complement the vaccines that were continuously developed and began to be used.
He also indicated that the vaccination of the world’s population will take a long time, and that treatments are needed for people who have not received the vaccine or chose not to be vaccinated.
There is another danger, represented in the mutations that occur in the virus so that vaccines become ineffective against it, which means that people begin to infection and show symptoms of the disease again.
The new treatment came as a result of a research team at the University of Southampton discovering that people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, usually have a low level of beta interferon.
Professor Donna Davis, who was part of this research team, said: “We thought why we wouldn’t boost interferon beta levels by making them inhale the protein.”
She added that research has now shown that COVID-19 can dampen the interferon-beta response. But experts warn that drugs, when used, do not usually live up to the successes of early trials.
“This is exciting, but we have to see what the results of the third stage show,” said Dr. Lamis Latif, a physician at a clinic in south London who worked in emergency care units for Covid-19 patients.
“We have other drugs in similar circumstances, we have hydroxychloroquine, for example, but again, when we get to additional trials, the drug is not as promising as the initial trials were. So this is something that should be taken into consideration for the current drug,” she added.