Synairgen PLC (LON:SNG) said it is targeting coronavirus patients that are currently still at home as the next step in the Phase II trial of its drug to tackle the disease.

The announcement, made in a webinar on Monday afternoon, followed results that morning from a clinical trial which showed that patients that received the company’s SNG001 treatment, which contains an inhaled formulation of antiviral protein interferon beta, had a 79% lower risk of developing the severe version of the disease compared to those given the placebo.

They were also more than twice as likely to recover from the illness than those receiving the substance with no therapeutic value.

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“Recognising that [coronavirus] is known to have evolved to evade the initial antiviral response of the lung, our inhaled treatment of giving high local concentrations of interferon beta, a naturally occurring antiviral protein, restores the lung’s ability to neutralise the virus or any mutation of the virus or co-infection with another respiratory virus such as influenza or RSV, as could be encountered in the winter if there is a resurgence of COVID-19”, said Professor Stephen Holgate, Medical Research Council Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology at the University of Southampton and co-founder of Synairgen.

While interferon beta is already a widely used treatment, a key difference in SNG001 is that it delivers the treatment through inhalation, as opposed to the usual method of injection. The company also said that SNG001 has a neutral pH rating, which it said is better for human lungs than treatments that are not pH neutral.

The company said the next portion of the trial is targeting 120 in-home patients, who have not yet progressed to a stage of the illness that requires hospitalisation, with the initial results from the first part of the trial including around 101 patients that were already in hospital but were not on ventilators.

Other data gleaned from the trial also showed those patients receiving SNG001 saw a higher likelihood of discharge from hospital than those on the placebo, as well as low incidents of breathlessness.

Looking ahead, Synairgen said with the likelihood of a surge in coronavirus and other respiratory illnesses such as flu and common colds over the winter period may help to provide information on whether SNG001 can also be sued to treat all of these illnesses, as unlike a vaccine it is not designed to focus solely on a single pathogen.

The company will also now consult with international regulators about what data is required to get the treatment approved across various jurisdictions.

In a note, analysts at the company’s house broker finnCap said the results of the trial were “very positive” and upgraded their price target on the firm to 360p, adding that the prospect of SNG001 generating sales this year was “increasingly likely”.

The broker added that discussions with regulators could also produce a route to market and buying potential ahead of the 2020 winter flu season, as well as the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus infections.

The trial results have seen the company’s share price rocket in Monday’s session, up around 352% at 165p in mid-afternoon.

Other avenues for interferon beta

Aside from Synairgen, other firms on the AIM market are also looking to use interferon beta as a basis for potential treatments for coronavirus and other illnesses.

In June, fellow biotech Faron Pharmaceuticals Oy (LON:FARN) said its Trumakine product, which is designed to help treat Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) and is being used in two global, adaptive trials investigating potential coronavirus treatments, will now be subject to a third trial to investigate whether the company’s IV IFN beta-1a can treat coronavirus.

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The HIBISCUS (Human Interferon Beta In Severe CoronavirUS) trial will focus on intensive care patients with ARDS caused by viral infection such as coronavirus and influenza. The phase II/III pivotal, randomised, placebo controlled study aims to recruit 350 patients over six to eight months throughout the US with “many significant hospitals participating”.

The trial is currently working on securing funding and regulatory approval for the trial.

Another ongoing use of interferon beta is for the treatment of multiple sclerosis (MS), where it is often used to help patients control ‘relapses’ of the condition by reducing inflammation that can cause nerve damage.