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A British medicine company stated on July 20 that an inhaler version of a common medicine can do wonders. According to them, inhaling the medicine may help in COVID-19 patients to not become severely ill. It is like a ray of hope for everyone in this dire situation. Moreover, the idea is being welcomed with a positive mindset by scientists who are relentlessly working towards the discovery of a proper vaccine. Although the experts are happy with the news, they are also trying to be cautious about the possibly new COVID-19 treatment.
In Britain, the new COVID-19 treatment drug that has created a storm is based on interferon beta. The same is a natural protein that the body produces to fight with viruses. Scientists in the country are trying to make this the basis of further experiments and research to come to a more definite conclusion. The United States and China are also looking forward to working on the same concept to develop an antidote for the coronavirus. Till then, we must keep our hopes high, and make sure to follow every protective measure.
Acceleration of COVID-19 Treatment
Scientists in several parts of the world have almost touched the root cause of the coronavirus infection. They are sure about the fact that the virus starts attacking the body in parts. As a result, the natural interferon response of the body is lost. Moreover, the disarming of cells takes place due to which they become incapable of warning other cells to activate their genes. Thus, there is no chance of fortification of the virus that has started to invade the human body. Therefore, theoretically, pushing in interferons to the body of a patient will activate the defensive functions. Therefore, the cells inside will start to combat the invading virus in the early stages only slashing chances of further severity.
The story and concept sound interesting, but there is a major problem that is yet to be resolved. It means that giving interferons to already infected patients may cause side-effects. So, doing the procedure without inviting the effects is becoming a serious challenge here. According to scientists, the mobilization of interferon response in the body produces flu symptoms.
Synairgen, the British medicine company believes that they can overcome the challenge. Therefore, they are trying to put forward the interferon in an inhaler version for COVID-19 treatment. According to them, inhaling interferons will target the lung cells directly. On the other hand, injecting the same may be the reason for major side-effects. The company scientists carried out a minor, double-blind trial on coronavirus positive patients admitted in nine hospitals across Britain.
Trial reports by Synairgen
The initial reports of the double-blind trial were quite promising. However, they were not published or further reviewed by experts. The inhaler version of Synairgen’s interferon beta was showing its effects. The people who inhaled the same showed signs of improvement. It means that their illness did not increase to the next level after the trial. Here severe conditions refer to a point when the patient needs to go into ventilation. The rate of patients who required ventilation was 79% lesser than the ones who received a placebo. However, the benefits of the experiment were quite limited. Some scientists also considered the results undercut because the trial size was very small. The test was conducted on just about 100 patients.
Synairgen says that there is a strong logic as to why they decided not to involve too many patients. It is because the scientists working on the inhaler concept were not sure if it will work. So, there was no point in putting the lives of more patients at a risk for the probable COVID-19 treatment. Since the company had to consider any kind of consequences of the trial, the ultimate point is yet to be proved. The conclusion till now is that the drug is only partially effective. Synairgen failed to keep its word even when they fell short of patient enrollment numbers.
Major issues raised by scientists
Yes, they intended to enroll more patients according to their claim in a filing on a government website of the US. Therefore, a group of scientists raised concerns about the fact that the company must have assessed the results earlier. According to them, the analysis of results is wrong until the results of an experiment are released. The scientists believe that the random trial should have been much larger to come to a definite conclusion about the actual effectiveness of the drug.
Besides all the above glitches, there is another major issue that has been highlighted by expert scientists. According to them, the injectable version of interferons was initially a part of the treatment of hepatitis infections. However, there is still no license for the inhaler version, nor is it available widely. Despite all the issues, the news of a cure was quite tantalizing amidst the crises across the globe. If all the issues can be borne-out, the concept of inhaling interferons may be an important breakthrough to date. Moreover, it may be a probable cure for the novel coronavirus. Virologists are keeping their hopes high for now, and waiting for the next update on the same.
The new medicine can change the game
According to Benjamin Tenoever, professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, the concept may be a gamechanger. He says it is possible to make the change if the drug can be made available for the public at a considerably lower rate. Benjamin adds that he is not doubting the whole concept, but the feasibility of the same.
The Professor was the co-author of one of the best scientific journals about the function of interferons when the virus invades the body. According to him, there is significant evidence that virus replication can be restricted with the help of administering interferons. It is clear from the journal that the effect is more if the entire procedure happens during the early stages of infection. Professor Benjamin has also said that there are proofs of the fact that interferons are capable of clearing the virus. Moreover, they can also block onward transmission.
The concept was studied by scientists in China as well. According to their reports, if people use interferons as nasal drops, the results will be promising. It can also be a way of preventing healthcare staff from attracting coronavirus infection. The study presented by Chinese scientists further suggests that the interferon drops are potentially promising for protecting healthy people who may become susceptible to the coronavirus.
What are the difficulties?
Among all the major challenges that American and British researchers are facing during the study of interferons is the difficulty of appointing patients in areas where caseloads are dropping. Professor Benjamin added that they had planned out a clinical trial at Mount Sinai. However, the same did not take place after COVID-19 beds emptied-out. Synairgen’s share prices were on an all-time rise after they issued the news about the drug on July 20. However, now they are struggling to appoint coronavirus patients who are staying at home.
A professor of virology at King’s College London, Stuart Neil says that there were warnings during the early stage of the pandemic only. Several scientists believe that using interferons on patients could inflame the combative immune response in people. However, according to the latest researchers, infected patients respond to interferons on their own to an extent. It is the same insight that has led to organizations such as Synairgen lay the framework for the research.
Synairgen claims the drug is successful
According to Synairgen, during a 15-days treatment period patients who are inhaling the interferon drug have double chances of recovery. The comparison in this case is against patients who are receiving a placebo for recovery. As a result, the ones under the interferon treatment are being able to combat the symptoms of the coronavirus, and are recovering soon. The company claimed that people who are using the interferon inhaler are less likely to experience breathlessness due to the coronavirus infection.
Amidst all of the research on COVID-19 treatment, the details by Synairgen in their recent statement are not enough. As a result, several questions are hanging loose without any proper answer. Besides, the concern of scientists is valid when they fear that a 15-day trial is just not enough. It is because the symptoms may relapse after that period despite the use of the inhaler. On the other hand, Synairgen said that listing out every detail about their research was a responsibility. It is an organization established by researchers and scientists at the South England’s University of Southampton. So, they have to abide by the obligation of public reporting according to rules of the stock market.
The competition already exists
A school of scientists believes that the inhaler version of interferon will mostly work on people who are not yet experiencing severe symptoms. On the other hand, another medicine by the name of dexamethasone seems to be more effective when it comes to patients who are severely ill. Dexamethasone is already popular in British and American hospitals. It is one of the medicines that seems useful to treat the serious symptoms of COVID-19 patients. The WHO is also supportive of the medicine and has ordered an acceleration of the production of dexamethasone. As a result, we are hoping that there will be enough medicine to treat every patient.