Common asthma drug can reduce COVID hospitalizations by 90% — study

Oxford University researchers say steroid budesonide, inhaled as a treatment for respiratory disorders, effective when administered to patients within a week of first symptoms

Illustrative: An image of a Symbicort budesonide inhaler for asthma. (Wikimedia Commons/One Salient Oversight)
Illustrative: An image of a Symbicort budesonide inhaler for asthma. (Wikimedia Commons/One Salient Oversight)

A common asthma drug can dramatically reduce hospitalizations, symptoms and recovery time among COVID-19 patients if taken up to a week after the appearance of symptoms, Oxford University researchers said.

Inhaling the steroid budesonide reduced by 90 percent the need for urgent care or hospitalization, when compared with the use of the usual treatment for virus patients, the Reuters news agency reported Tuesday, citing the Oxford experts.

Initial results, reached after a 28-day study of 146 patients, showed volunteers recovered more quickly from fever and had less persistent symptoms when treated with the steroid.

Budesonide is sold as Pulmicort by AstraZeneca, which together with Oxford University has also produced a vaccine against the coronavirus.

“I am heartened that a relatively safe, widely available, and well-studied medicine… could have an impact on the pressures we are experiencing during the pandemic,” said researcher Mona Bafadhel.

Researchers were drawn to take a closer look at the drug after noticing how few patients with chronic respiratory disease were among those hospitalized with COVID-19 in the early days of the pandemic. People suffering from respiratory disorders are often prescribed inhaled steroids as a treatment.

The results of the Oxford University research have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Screen capture from video of a person using a Pulmicort inhaler. (YouTube)

On Thursday AstraZeneca published figures showing its net profits more than doubled last year to $3.2 billion on strong sales of new cancer drugs.

The update did not include any current or projected earnings from AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine, which is being rolled out worldwide.

However, the company said “the largest direct impacts of COVID-19 on the company’s portfolio” included reduced sales of respiratory drug Pulmicort in China and less use globally of infused and injectable medicines such as Imfinzi and Fasenra.

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