Researchers are currently recruiting to a trial to see if an inhaled drug developed but not yet approved for asthma can help higher-risk people with newly diagnosed COVID-19.

Interferon beta-1a is a naturally-produced protein. It is produced in response to infections and helps activate the body’s immune response. Injections of interferon beta are currently used to treat a number of conditions, including multiple sclerosis. Recently, the drug has been tested in studies for people with asthma and COPD in the hope it might help fight off respiratory infections before they cause a flare-up of symptoms.

Now the researchers want to see whether the drug, currently named SNG001, delivered by nebuliser can help newly diagnosed people at high risk of complications from COVID-19. A nebuliser is a device that converts liquid medicines into a fine mist that can be breathed in through a facemask or mouthpiece and reach deep into the lungs. People over 65 years or over 60 years who are at raised risk of serious illness because of underlying conditions are being invited to take part in a randomised controlled trial in which they use the inhaler at home if they get the virus.

So, we will need to wait for the results of this trial before we know if this treatment helps.


Where did the story come from?

Several news outlets reported on the trial, which is being run in the UK. The Daily Mail report hails the drug as ‘potentially life-saving’ although we will not know whether it works until the results of the study are published.

The trial has also been registered as a clinical trial, so the methods can be transparent to everyone.


What is the basis for the claim?

The trial’s patient information sheet says that the researchers plan to recruit between 100 and 600 people with suspected COVID-19, who have developed symptoms within the previous two days. They will only recruit people who are at risk of serious COVID-19 over 65 years or over 60 years with underlying conditions.

The aim is to find out whether inhaling the drug directly into the lungs can boost the lungs’ anti-viral defences against COVID-19, reducing the chances of people getting seriously ill from the disease.

People with symptoms will be offered a test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. If they test positive they will be entered into the trial. They will be randomly assigned to receive either the inhaled SNG001 or a placebo (dummy drug). Everyone will be sent a nebuliser and will be instructed on how to use it in a video call.

Participants will be asked to use the inhaler daily for 14 days. They will also have daily calls with the research team and have their symptoms monitored.

The trial is being run by the manufacturers of SNG001, a drug company called Synairgen.


What do trusted sources say?

The World Health Organisation has not commented on the trial.


  1. Home participant information sheet and informed consent form. Treatment for patients with confirmed COVID-19. A randomised double-blind placebo-controlled trial to determine the safety and efficacy of inhaled SNG001 (IFNβ-1a for nebulisation) for the treatment of patients with confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. Synairgen. Available at: (accessed 26 June 2020).

Analysis by EIU Healthcare, supported by Reckitt Benckiser


Reading list

    1. Clinical Trial registry. A Randomised Double-blind Placebo-controlled Trial to Determine the Safety and Efficacy of Inhaled SNG001 (IFN-β1a for Nebulisation) for the Treatment of Patients with Confirmed SARS-CoV-2 Infection. (accessed 26 June 2020).