LONDON: British scientists have begun testing a new drug that they hope will help high-risk patients fight off COVID-19.
The experimental treatment, being trialled at University Hospital Southampton in the UK, uses a protein called interferon beta, which our bodies produce when we get a viral infection.
Interferon beta is commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis, but early research suggests it could be used to stimulate the immune response of the lungs for patients with asthma and other chronic lung conditions.
Richard Marsden, chief executive of Synairgen, the company behind the potential new treatment, said interferon beta is part of the body’s first line of defense against viruses, warning it to expect a viral attack.
COVID-19 appears to suppress production of interferon beta as it tries to evade the immune system.
Seventy-five people have enrolled in the clinical trials so far, which are taking place at hospitals across the UK.
Initial results are expected by the end of June, but if effective, it could still take until the end of the year until the treatment is widely available.
Roughly 3.5 million coronavirus infections have now been recorded worldwide, though some experts fear the number may be far higher.
The World Health Organization has been coordinating the global response to the virus, and has endorsed the study of interferon beta as a potential treatment.
The US, China and many other countries have been rushing to develop treatments for the virus. More than 100 other remedies are currently being explored worldwide.
A drug called Remdesivir, which was developed as an Ebola treatment, has generated particular excitement.
US officials have said there is “clear-cut” evidence that it helps people recover from COVID-19.≠