By Joe Curtis

LONDON - A new protein-based coronavirus drug could dramatically reduce the number of patients who need intensive care, according to the preliminary results from a trial.

FTSE-listed Synairgen today said the trial could represent a “major breakthrough” in the fight to find effective coronavirus drug treatments.

Synairgen saw a 79 per cent reduction in the odds of a patient requiring ventilation after taking its SNG001 drug.

That could help hospitals battling to find enough ventilators to treat coronavirus patients with symptoms such as severe breathing difficulty.

Coronavirus patients were also between two and three times more likely to recover to the point where their everyday life was not affected, Synairgen said.

And the Southampton-based firm reported “very significant” reductions in breathlessness among patients.

And the average stay of a coronavirus patient in hospital also fell, from nine days to six.

Synairgen’s SNG001 coronavirus drug relies on a protein called interferon beta, something the human body produces in reaction to a viral infection.

Patients with coronavirus symptoms can inhale the protein.

In the trial, 101 patients with an average age of 56.5 years from nine UK hospitals took part over two months.

Half received Synairgen’s coronavirus drug treatment and half a placebo.

Breathlessness was “markedly reduced” in patients who received SNG001, Synairgen said.

“We are all delighted with the trial results announced today, which showed that SNG001 greatly reduced the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients who progressed from ‘requiring oxygen’ to ‘requiring ventilation’,” Synairgen CEO Richard Marsden said.

“It also showed that patients who received SNG001 were at least twice as likely to recover to the point where their everyday activities were not compromised through having been infected by SARS-CoV-2.

“In addition, SNG001 has significantly reduced breathlessness, one of the main symptoms of severe COVID-19. This assessment of SNG001 in COVID-19 patients could signal a major breakthrough in the treatment of hospitalised COVID-19 patients. Our efforts are now focused on working with the regulators and other key groups to progress this potential COVID-19 treatment as rapidly as possible.”

Professor Tom Wilkinson, the trial’s chief investigator, added: “The results confirm our belief that interferon beta, a widely known drug that, by injection, has been approved for use in a number of other indications, has huge potential as an inhaled drug to be able to restore the lung’s immune response, enhancing protection, accelerating recovery and countering the impact of SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

The drugmaker’s share price soared in early trading, rocketing up almost 170 per cent to around 97p following its update.

Synairgen’s market update today was a report of preliminary findings. The trial is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal, while the firm has not published its full dataset.