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Common asthma drug lowers risk of Covid-19 hospitalisation, Oxford study finds

Daisy Aitchison reports on a study conducted in partnership with the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and AstraZeneca.

A study from Oxford University has shown that a common asthma treatment can reduce the risk of hospitalisations by 90% among Covid-19 patients. 

The research, which was conducted in partnership with the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre and AstraZeneca, involved 146 participants. Half of those involved were given inhaled budesonide, which is usually used to treat the symptoms of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while the other half received standard patient care. 

Findings from the study, which were published earlier this month, suggested that over a 28-day period, the drug could reduce the risk of patients needing hospital treatment by 90%. The trial was sparked by data which suggested that patients who used inhaled steroids for other medical conditions were less likely to be admitted to hospital with Covid-19. 

Professor Mona Bafadhel, a member of the Nuffield Department of Medicine at the University of Oxford and a Respiratory Consultant also working at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, led the research. 

Commenting on the findings, she said: “There have been important breakthroughs in hospitalised COVID-19 patients, but equally important is treating early disease to prevent clinical deterioration and the need for urgent care and hospitalisation, especially to the billions of people worldwide who have limited access to hospital care. 

“The vaccine programmes are really exciting, but we know that these will take some time to reach everyone across the world. I am heartened that a relatively safe, widely available and well studied medicine such as an inhaled steroid could have an impact on the pressures we are experiencing during the pandemic.” 

The study comes alongside separate research from the university which has suggested that the use of the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab can significantly reduce the number of deaths of patients hospitalised by Covid-19. The medication reduced mortality by a third for patients requiring simple oxygen, and nearly a half for those on more invasive ventilation.

In addition to the fall in hospitalisations, Professor Bafadhel’s research also demonstrated that budesonide could be effective in reducing the number of patients who require urgent care as a result of the disease, as well as reducing recovery time from the onset of symptoms. 

Professor Bafadhel spoke about the significance of these additional conclusions: “Although not the primary outcome of study, this is an important finding. I am encouraged to see the reduction in persistent symptoms at 14 and 28 days after treatment with budesonide. Persistent symptoms after the initial COVID-19 illness have emerged as a long-term problem. Any intervention which could address this would be a major step forward.” 

Image Credit: NIAID. License: CC BY-SA 2.0.

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