New large-scale Covid treatment trial has begun in the UK - what you need to know

A UK trial of a new treatment hoped to prevent those with Covid from developing severe illness has begun on a large scale.

The trial involves coronavirus patients inhaling a protein called interferon beta, which is something that the body produces when it gets a viral infection.

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It is hoped that the inhalation of this protein - via nebuliser - will then stimulate the immune system and prepare cells to fight off viruses.

New trial of the treatment underway

The treatment has been developed at Southampton University Hospital, and is being produced by the biotech company Synairgen, which is also based in Southampton.

The new trial of the treatment is now underway, with the first patient receiving the treatment at Hull Royal Infirmary on Tuesday afternoon (12 Jan).

The third phase of the trial comes after previous, smaller trials on the drug, but after the second trial came to an end last year, researchers said that further research was required with larger randomised clinical trials.

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This new phase of the trial will involve more than 600 patients in 20 countries, with half the participants given the drug and the other half given a placebo.

The team conducting the trial hope it will be completed by early summer this year, and - if the results are as hoped - they expect the drug to be authorised for use in both the UK and other countries shortly follow.

What did previous trials show?

The results of a smaller, phase two clinical trial of the treatment carried out last year suggested that the treatment cut the odds of a hospitalised Covid patient developing severe disease - such as requiring ventilation - by almost 80 per cent.

Synairgen said that patients were two to three times more likely to recover to the point where everyday activities were not compromised by their illness, and that the trial indicated "very significant" reductions in breathlessness among patients who received the treatment.

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For those receiving the new drug, the average time patients spent in hospital was also said to have been reduced by a third .

Previous clinical trials of the drug - which costs around £2,000 for a course of treatment - also showed that patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions can tolerate it comfortably.