top of page

Covid Kerching

'Major' breakthrough in Covid-19 drug makes three UK professors millionaires.

Last week OGN Daily reported that a company, spun off from Southampton University, had made Another Covid Breakthrough by developing an aerosol-based protein inhalant that demonstrated the ability to reduce the risk of death and the chance of developing serious symptoms by 79%.

The company, called Synairgen, saw its share price rise 540% on morning of the announcement of the successful drugs trial.

Almost twenty years ago professors Ratko Djukanovic, Donna Davies and Stephen Holgate discovered that people with asthma and chronic lung disease lacked a protein called interferon beta, which helps fight off the common cold. They worked out that a patient's defence against viral infection could be boosted if the missing protein were replaced.

The academics created a company, Synairgen, to commercialise their discoveries. It floated on the stock market in 2004, but a deal with AstraZeneca to treat viral infections in asthmatics fell through, and the shares duly imploded, reported The Guardian.

Jumping forward to 2020 and the outbreak of coronavirus, and suddenly any potential treatments for breathing difficulties were in great demand.

Richard Marsden, Synairgen’s chief executive, said the company had been deeply involved in a trial using the interferon beta drug to help people with chronic bronchitis or emphysema. “[But] when the coronavirus pandemic emerged, even back in January we realised that we might have an important role to play in defence against this virus,” he said. “So we set about getting a clinical trial set up in February and March in anticipation of the virus coming to the UK, [and] it did. The trial was in place when people started to fill the hospitals up."

“It is part of the coronavirus’s strategy to interfere with the immune system and suppress interferon beta, so if we can put it back in, we can have dramatic effect.”

Results of the initial trial, published last week, demonstrated that coronavirus patients treated with a special formulation of the professors’ interferon beta drug, called SNG001, delivered directly to their airways via a nebuliser, were two to three times more likely to recover than those given a placebo.

The study of 101 people found that patients were 79% less likely to develop a severe version of the disease and their breathlessness was also “markedly reduced”, the company said.

As soon as the clinical trial results were published, on the morning of 21 July, the shares spiked, and by lunchtime had risen by 540%. Djukanovic, aged 65, a professor of medicine, saw his 0.56% stake in the company jump in value in one day from about £300,000 to £1.6m. The 0.59% stake held by Holgate, 73, a professor of immunopharmacology, rose to £1.7m. It is understood that Davies, aged 67, the third founder and a professor of respiratory cell and molecular biology, holds a similar-sized stake through a separate company.

It's anyone's guess how high the shares rise if further trials prove successful and they get SNG001 to market. Although, they will probably have to change its name to something rather more snappy.

bottom of page