The UK has launched large-scale trials of a new drug that could cut the risk of Covid patients developing severe illness by as much as 80 per cent.
Thirty-four-year-old Alexandra Constantin became the first patient to receive the drug, produced by London-listed biotech firm Synairgen, after receiving the dose at Hull Royal Infirmary yesterday afternoon.
The phase three trials will see Synairgen’s inhaled formulation of a protein called interferon beta administered to more than 600 Covid patients who require supplemental oxygen.
It is thought that the naturally-occurring protein, which is widely used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis , will stimulate the immune system and prime cells to fight off coronavirus.
Early findings suggested the treatment reduced the risk of a Covid-19 patient in hospital developing severe disease, such as requiring ventilation, by almost 80 per cent.
Results from phase two trials of around 100 patients last year also indicated “very significant” reductions in breathlessness, while the average time patients spent in hospital was reduced by a third — down from an average of nine days to six days.
Half the participants across 20 countries will be given the drug as part of the scaled-up trial, while the other half will receive a placebo.
Read more: Asda to offer in-store Covid-19 vaccinations
“If we had a positive study, we would hope to move rapidly into scaled manufacture and delivery of the drug in clinical practice,” said Professor Tom Wilkinson, of the University of Southampton, who is overseeing the trial.
Synairgen shares hiked more than 7.1 per cent to 165p this morning.
It comes as the UK continues to expand its portfolio of experimental drugs to treat Covid-19.
Coronavirus patients in the UK admitted to intensive care last week began receiving breakthrough drugs that cut the risk of death by almost a quarter.
Tocilizumab and sarilumab, which are typically used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, reduced the relative risk of death by 24 per cent when administered to patients within 24 hours of entering intensive care.
Health secretary Matt Hancock praised the results as “yet another landmark development in finding a way out of this pandemic”.
He added that they would play a significant role in defeating this virus “when added to the armoury of vaccines and treatments already being rolled out”.
Every adult in Britain will be offered a vaccine by autumn as part of the nation’s largest ever vaccination programme, which has so far seen almost 2.5m of the most-vulnerable immunised.