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New study uses lessons of COVID-19 to develop new treatments for severe viral infection



Southampton researchers are looking to improve the prevention and treatment of lung and airway infections.


They plan to do this using the knowledge and experience gained by treating people in hospital with COVID-19.


The UNIVERSAL study aims to better understand how and when viral lung and airway infections progress to more serious disease. It will also help develop effective antiviral treatments to combat these infections.


The study is being led by Tom Wilkinson, Professor of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton. Professor Wilkinson a key researcher at the NIHR Southampton Biomedical Research Centre.


Identifying patients who may become seriously ill


University Hospital Southampton was the first hospital to open the study last week. It has already recruited the first patient. Overall, the study is aiming to recruit 1,000 patients who test positive for a viral respiratory infection. It will involve up to 10 hospital sites around the UK.


Patients admitted to hospital with respiratory infections will have blood and swab samples taken. The researchers will analyse these samples for signs of the body's immune and inflammatory responses. The patients will also be assessed by medical teams and fill in questionnaires. This will help track their symptoms and any progression of the infection.


The researchers hope to use this information to identify patients who may become seriously ill. This could help predict their recovery and length of stay in hospital. It could also help them understand which viruses are affecting the population.


“As seen over the course of the pandemic, individual response to respiratory virus infection is variable from patient to patient,” says Professor Wilkinson.


“This can range from mild, self-limiting symptoms to severe infection requiring hospital care. There is a real need to better understand this patient journey, and to understand what drives these differences. This will enable the development of new, more effective therapeutics for respiratory viral illness beyond COVID.”


Working with Synairgen


UNIVERSAL is being supported by Southampton-based respiratory company Synairgen. It is investigating an inhaled antiviral as a potential treatment for hospitalised patients with COVID-19. It is also investigating its use in patients with severe viral lung infections.


Synairgen is providing viral testing equipment and nursing staff at the Southampton clinical trial site.


Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen, says: “The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the important link between research and clinical care, and the impact on the timely development of much-needed antivirals for severe lung viral infections caused by seasonal viruses and emerging respiratory viral threats.


"Our collaboration on the UNIVERSAL study will help provide a better understanding of what could predict clinical outcomes in patients hospitalised with respiratory symptoms due to infection with a range of respiratory viruses. The trial will help to further inform the development programme of SNG001, our investigational broad-spectrum antiviral.”


UNIVERSAL is funded by Janssen, with support from Synairgen. The Southampton Clinical Trials Unit is supporting the trial. University Hospital Southampton are the sponsor.