UK biotech rock­ets up on Covid-19 'break­through' for in­haled in­ter­fer­on be­ta — can its small study live up to the boast?

In­ter­fer­on be­ta, a cy­tokine ap­proved and wide­ly used in in­jectable forms, sur­faced very ear­ly on as a po­ten­tial treat­ment for Covid-19. A British biotech now says its in­haled for­mu­la­tion of the drug helped hos­pi­tal­ized pa­tients re­cov­er — and low­ered their risk of do­ing worse.

It’s a small study in­volv­ing on­ly 101 pa­tients and missed some end­points, but Synair­gen said the re­sults could sig­nal a “ma­jor break­through.” If true, that would al­so mark se­ri­ous val­i­da­tion for a drug that As­traZeneca once li­censed but even­tu­al­ly aban­doned as an asth­ma ther­a­py.

First, the pos­i­tives:

  • Pa­tients in the SNG001 arm saw their risk of re­quir­ing ven­ti­la­tion or dy­ing re­duced by 79% com­pared to those who re­ceived place­bo, with a mar­gin­al­ly pos­i­tive p-val­ue of 0.046.
  • They were al­so “more than twice as like­ly to re­cov­er” — to the point where they can go about their dai­ly lives de­spite the in­fec­tion — al­though the dif­fer­ence here wasn’t spelled out (p=0.043).
Stephen Hol­gate

Al­though the com­pa­ny didn’t use the ex­act word­ing, these out­comes ap­pear to align with the pri­ma­ry end­point list­ed on a tri­al post­ing, which mea­sures clin­i­cal im­prove­ment dur­ing the 16-day dos­ing pe­ri­od on an 8-point scale. No fur­ther de­tails on how pa­tients im­proved or wors­ened along that scale were pro­vid­ed.

Shares shot up 173.97% up­on the news, reach­ing 100 GBX on the Lon­don Stock Ex­change.

One oth­er sec­ondary end­point stood out, while oth­ers fell short.

Breath­less­ness, a se­vere symp­tom de­signed to be as­sessed along­side cough and spu­tum, was “marked­ly re­duced” for pa­tients who got the drug (p=0.007). The num­bers for cough and spu­tum weren’t avail­able.

More­over, Synair­gen not­ed, three par­tic­i­pants died af­ter be­ing ran­dom­ized to place­bo, com­pared to ze­ro deaths in the SNG001 group — not that they can draw any con­clu­sion from it.

SNG001 works by send­ing high lo­cal con­cen­tra­tions of in­ter­fer­on be­ta, a “nat­u­ral­ly oc­cur­ring an­tivi­ral pro­tein,” to re­store the lung’s de­fense against the virus, ac­cord­ing to Stephen Hol­gate, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton pro­fes­sor who co-found­ed Synair­gen.

Richard Mars­den

But the tri­al, which was con­duct­ed across 9 sites in the UK, found that pa­tients who al­ready re­quired oxy­gen at ad­mis­sion didn’t seem to ben­e­fit as much. The “nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage” in the like­li­hood of hos­pi­tal dis­charge didn’t trans­late to a sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant gain, with me­di­an time to dis­charge in the SNG001 group at 6 days and the place­bo group, 9 days (p=0.096).

Synair­gen al­so want­ed to high­light that pa­tients ap­peared to be more like­ly to have re­cov­ered by the end of treat­ment if they were on the drug, though it was again not sta­tis­ti­cal­ly sig­nif­i­cant.

What does this all mean? The com­pa­ny is con­duct­ing fur­ther analy­sis and it has pre­vi­ous­ly said a piv­otal tri­al would be need­ed. Mars­den said they are now work­ing with reg­u­la­tors and oth­er groups to “progress this po­ten­tial COVID-19 treat­ment as rapid­ly as pos­si­ble.”

It’s un­clear how the da­ta and those from a fol­low-up tri­al would be squared against in­ter­fer­on be­ta ad­min­is­tered in more tra­di­tion­al, com­mer­cial­ly avail­able forms. These are be­ing test­ed in com­bi­na­tion with the HIV drug Kale­tra in both the UK’s RE­COV­ERY tri­al and the WHO-led SOL­I­DAR­I­TY study, two of the largest mas­ter pro­to­cols or­ga­nized to weed out a ros­ter of po­ten­tial Covid-19 drugs.

A study out of Is­rael, pub­lished days ago, con­clud­ed that al­though in­ter­fer­on be­ta “did not change time to reach the clin­i­cal re­sponse, adding to the stan­dard of care sig­nif­i­cant­ly in­creased dis­charge rate on day 14 and de­creased 28-day mor­tal­i­ty.”

Be­fore the pan­dem­ic swept it up, Synair­gen had been test­ing SNG001 in pa­tients with chron­ic ob­struc­tive pul­monary dis­ease. Back in 2014 As­traZeneca in-li­censed the drug for asth­ma and kicked off a study, on­ly to halt it ear­ly in 2016 af­ter de­ter­min­ing that an over­all low num­ber of ex­ac­er­ba­tions among the asth­ma pa­tients re­cruit­ed in that cold sea­son would make it dif­fi­cult to see if they could ac­tu­al­ly hit the pri­ma­ry end­point that had been laid out.

“When we’ve col­lect­ed cells from pa­tients with COPD and asth­ma and old­er peo­ple…we find that their lung cells don’t re­spond very well to virus­es,” Mars­den told End­points News in a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view. “We have al­so along the way al­ways rec­og­nized that with an emerg­ing virus, the drug could be used.”

Whether it will be adopt­ed is a whole oth­er ques­tion like­ly won’t take long to an­swer in the fran­tic R&D race for treat­ments.

For a look at all End­points News coro­n­avirus sto­ries, check out our spe­cial news chan­nel.

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Chris Gibson (Photo By Vaughn Ridley/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images)

Re­cur­sion founders gin for­tunes as IPO back­ers show­er $436M on one of the biggest boasts in AI -- based on some very small deals

In the AI drug development world, boasting often comes with the territory. Yet few can rival Recursion when it comes to claiming the lead role in what company execs like to call the industrialization of drug development, with promises of continued exponential growth in the number of drugs it has in the pipeline.

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UP­DAT­ED: New Kaiser analy­sis shows how lim­it­ing price ne­go­ti­a­tions to tar­get­ed drugs may bet­ter fo­cus up­com­ing leg­is­la­tion

As Congress considers whether to adopt sweeping new legislation to lower prescription drug prices across the board, the Kaiser Family Foundation is out with a new report on Monday showing how a more targeted approach on a subset of drugs might be a more efficient way to save government funds.

“This analysis shows that Medicare Part D and Part B spending is highly concentrated among a relatively small share of covered drugs, mainly those without generic or biosimilar competitors,” wrote Juliette Cubanski, deputy director of the program on Medicare policy at KFF, and Tricia Neuman, SVP of KFF. “Focusing drug price negotiation or reference pricing on a subset of drugs that account for a disproportionate share of spending would be an efficient use of administrative resources, though it would also leave some potential savings on the table.”

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Till­man Gern­gross' Covid-19 an­ti­body moon­shot scores $336M with the help of new ace CFO. Is an IPO next?

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Adagio has bagged $336 million as part of a Series C round led by RA Capital to advance lead single-shot antibody ADG20 through a pivotal Phase I/II/III trial for the treatment of mild to moderate Covid-19 patients at high risk of infection, the biotech said Monday.

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FDA lays the ham­mer on Emer­gen­t's Bal­ti­more plant af­ter J&J de­ba­cle, halt­ing all pro­duc­tion in un­usu­al move

Emergent BioSolutions has had a tough month: First, the CDMO ruined 15 million doses of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine in March and then suffered the ignominy of the FDA seizing the reins. Now, as the agency receives a full accounting of the site’s problems, Emergent has slammed the brakes on all production at the FDA’s behest.

Emergent will cease manufacturing at its Baltimore plant until the FDA’s inspection and remediation of any findings is complete, the company said in a statement. Emergent will also quarantine existing materials that have already been manufactured. That stoppage started on Friday, four days after the initiation of the FDA’s inspection.

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Ovid cuts its loss­es on con­tro­ver­sial An­gel­man syn­drome drug, mak­ing its crush­ing de­vel­op­ment halt per­ma­nent

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Ovid has discontinued development of OV101, or gaboxadol, in Angelman syndrome and will not pursue further clinical trials for Fragile X syndrome, the company announced Monday morning. The news comes after Ovid had previously paused development in Angelman when the compound flunked a Phase III trial in December.

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Between 1 million and 2 million doses of the 12.3 million expected to be delivered in time for the second quarter will be delayed until the third, as Moderna said Friday that shipments to Canada and the UK are behind schedule after a supply chain shortage will delay deliveries.

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It’s always a surprise when a court has to step in to tell the FDA that it erred in performing one of its main duties: classifying whether a medical product is drug or a device.

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