Trial of interferon beta in COVID-19 patients begins in UK

A global phase III clinical trial to evaluate an inhaled form of interferon beta-1a for the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients requiring supplemental oxygen has begun in the UK.

Hospitalised COVID patients requiring supplemental oxygen are being enrolled into the trial. | GETTY IMAGES
Hospitalised COVID patients requiring supplemental oxygen are being enrolled into the trial. | GETTY IMAGES

The randomised placebo-controlled trial, deemed an 'Urgent Public Health study' by the UK National Institute for Health Research, is being conducted in some 20 countries and aims to enrol 610 COVID-19 patients who require supplemental oxygen.

The nebulised form of interferon beta was developed at Southampton University Hospital and is being produced by Synairgen, a drug discovery and development company also based in Southampton.

Once results for the primary and secondary key endpoints have been reported, enrolled patients will continue to be assessed for symptoms of long COVID.

Mode of action

Findings from in vitro studies have shown that administration of exogenous interferon beta before or during viral infection of lung cells prevents or greatly reduces viral replication, potentially reducing the severity of infection and accelerating recovery.

Nebulised interferon beta was shown to activate antiviral lung defences (as measured in sputum cells) in phase I and II studies and was well tolerated. 

Currently, interferon beta-1a is available in the UK as injectable presentations (Avonex, Rebif) licensed for the treatment of multiple sclerosis.

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