Lab tests show Southampton antiviral effective against COVID-19 variants

Lab tests have shown a promising antiviral treatment to be effective against the Alpha and Beta COVID-19 variants.

Southampton-led research into a COVID-19 treatment is set to continue after promising new results. These data show that inhaled interferon beta (IFN-beta) is effective against new variants in the lab.

The treatment is being developed by University of Southampton spin-out company Synairgen. It delivers a fine mist of the protein IFN-beta breathed deep into the lungs. Interferon beta is a naturally occurring molecule, key to our airways' anti-viral defences. By adding extra IFN-beta straight to the lungs, the Synaurgen treatment boost those defences. Data showing coronavirus limits IFN-beta levels adds weight to this approach in COVID-19.

The drug is currently in large scale trials, after early trials showing it improved patients' odds of avoiding intensive care by up to 80%.

Led Professor Tom Wilkinson, those trials in hospitalised COVID-19 patients have now opened in India.

Highly effective against two variants

New variants of the Sars-Cov2 could be different enough to limit how well COVID-19 treatments work. That would set doctors, and society back in the fight to contain pandemic impacts. The latest tests were vital to understand the impact of new variants on the Synairgen treatment.

Scientists at Viroclinics-DDL in the Netherlands, conducted the tests of Synairgen’s IFN-beta. They applied doses equal to those in treated patients' lungs to cells infected with either Alpha (UK/Kent) or Beta (South African) variants. That treatment reduced the amount of virus in both groups to undetectable levels.

Continuing international trials

These data are good news for the ongoing phase III international trial of inhaled IFN-beta. That trial involves more than 600 patients in 20 countries. It follows early phase results showing patients had up to 80% lower chance of needing intensive care, and better recovery. If successful, the researchers hope for approval later in the summer.

“Emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2 are of great concern as they may negatively impact on the effectiveness of current vaccines and therapeutics," comments Prof Sir Stephen Holgate CBE, Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton and Co-Founder of Synairgen.

“These data are not surprising, and confirm the broad-spectrum antiviral activity of SNG001, which has shown activity against a range of respiratory viruses such as RSV, rhinovirus, adenovirus and influenza, and reassuringly confirm its activity against these SARS-CoV-2 variants, which is important in the context of our ongoing Phase III trial in hospitalised patients and the future use of this drug against SARS-CoV-2 and other emerging viral threats.”

Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen, added: “As expected, these data confirm that SNG001 is a broad-spectrum antiviral product, now also demonstrating applicability against SARS-CoV-2 variants. The SARS-CoV-2 virus suppresses the production of the essential antiviral protein IFN-beta to evade the host immune system; it is therefore to be expected that when IFN-beta is reintroduced into an infection experiment that the host cells are able to repel the virus.

“Alongside vaccines, our lines of defence for this pandemic and future outbreaks rely in part on access to effective antivirals with broad-spectrum activity against a range of viruses and variants. The current focus on the Indian variant demonstrates how concerned Governments are about the risk that a variant may render the vaccines less effective, and we are pleased to see initiatives being put in place to accelerate and support development of antiviral therapeutics as a backstop for patients who are admitted to hospital. We are pleased to report that we have now started dosing patients at trial sites in India in our Phase III study."