Aerosol-based treatment could dramatically reduce the number of new coronavirus patients who die from the disease or need intensive care. This is based on preliminary results released on Monday by a British biotech company.
In a randomized study of 100 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, those who received an inhaled formula of the interferon beta protein were 79 percent less likely to develop a serious illness than those who received a placebo received.
They were also more than twice as likely to fully recover compared to the control group.
The company behind the treatment, known as SNG001, said the preliminary results indicated a "major breakthrough" in the pandemic.
"We are all excited about the trial results announced today that showed that SNG001 significantly reduced the number of COVID-19 patients in hospital who transitioned from oxygen to ventilation," said Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen.
The results released on Monday have not yet been reviewed by experts, and the sample size is relatively small.
If confirmed, the treatment could revolutionize the way COVID-19 is used in hospitals.
Interferon Beta is a naturally occurring protein that is commonly used to treat multiple sclerosis.
It is part of the body's natural fight against infection, and the novel coronavirus suppresses its production to avoid an immune response.
Delivering the protein directly to the lungs of patients is said to trigger a robust immune response to the virus, even in patients whose immune system is already weakened by an infection.
"The results confirm our belief that interferon beta … has great potential as an inhaled drug to restore the lung's immune response," said Tom Wilkinson, professor or respiratory doctor at the University of Southampton.
He said the study showed that SNG001 "improves protection, speeds recovery, and counteracts the effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus."
Naveed Sattar, professor of metabolic medicine at the University of Glasgow, said the new treatment could "be a game changer".
"With small (study) numbers, there is less certainty about the actual benefits or whether the benefits vary between people with different risk characteristics," said Sattar, who was not involved in the research.
"Such work would require a larger effort, but the results are still very exciting."
There are currently a number of treatments for patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
Last month, a UK-based research team led by Oxford University announced that they had successfully reduced the risk of death in critically ill patients by administering the commonly available steroid dexamethasone.
Several countries have also issued emergency approval for antiviral remdesivir treatment.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and published from a syndicated feed.)