Health workers are hopeful that they have found the future of coronavirus recovery within one simple, cheap and inhalable asthma drug - budesonide.
A major breakthrough for treating coronavirus
Researchers from Oxford University have recently found that budesonide could help COVID sufferers over 50, who do not require hospitalisation, to recover up to three days faster.
The study consisted of 1,779 participants, 751 of which were treated with budesonide over 14 days, while the remaining 1,028 were assigned regular NHS care for comparison. The participants each fit into one of two categories, either those over 65 with coronavirus symptoms or those aged 50 to 64 who were symptomatic and had extenuating health factors that put them at risk of severe infection.
The trial’s budesonide patients were instructed to inhale up to 800 micrograms twice a day for 14 days. Self-reported results showed that the regular doses helped aid recovery by a median time of 3 days faster than those without the drug. After the 28-day follow up, those treated with budesonide were also 46% more likely to report a ‘sustained recovery’, meaning that the chances of developing long COVID were also lessened.
During the 28-day follow-up, 8.5% of budesonide users required hospitalisation due to COVID symptoms, which is lower than the 10.3% of people in the standard care group. However, due to fewer people being admitted to hospital than predicted and falling cases of COVID hospitalisation across the UK, the study cannot conclude whether or not budesonide could reduce the amount of COVID sufferers requiring hospital care.
The results come as part of a Government-funded PRINCIPLE clinical trial that set out to examine the COVID treating capabilities of drugs that already exist on the market.
The anti-inflammatory drug can be used via an inhaler twice a day for up to 14 days and can be prescribed by a GP, creating hope that non-serious cases of coronavirus may be treatable early and at home.
The trial has since been halted as health officials are sure that the treatment works and want to get it out into the community as quickly as possible. The NHS has even urged GPs not to hesitate in prescribing budesonide for coronavirus, even though clinical trial results have yet to be concluded. However, the prescription should still be considered on a case by case basis.
Professor Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, revealed: ‘We are delighted to see these trial results for a medicine that could help people with COVID-19 recover more quickly at home instead of being admitted to hospital.’
While we await final trial results, GPs may wish to consider prescribing inhaled budesonide where there is a medical benefit to patients following a shared decision conversation.
Chief Investigator Prof Richard Hobbs, of Oxford University also hailed the breakthrough as a ‘significant milestone for this pandemic:’
For the first time we have high-quality evidence of an effective treatment that can be rolled out across the community for people who are at most risk of developing more severe illness from COVID-19. Unlike other proven treatments, budesonide is effective as a treatment at home and during the early stages of the illness. This is a significant milestone for this pandemic.
How does budesonide help COVID recovery?
Budesonide is a type of corticosteroid, a category of drugs that has already proven beneficial for COVID patients in other forms.
More severe coronavirus cases are thought to be caused by an overreaction of the immune system, leading it to attack the tissue in your lungs. It is suspected that budesonide’s anti-inflammatory properties help to assist in recovery by lessening this intense immune reaction. Oxford’s Professor Mona Bafadhel, a consultant respiratory physician, has also suggested that the drug may have the ability to reduce viral replication.
Scientists have expressed interest in further assessing the benefits of budesonide for coronavirus but this time in patients over 18 with existing health factors.