Oxford study suggests asthma treatment reduces COVID-19 hospitalisation

A new study compiled by the University of Oxford has found that early treatment for COVID-19 patients with medication commonly used for asthma could ‘significantly reduce the need for hospitalisation and urgent care. The data also suggested that inhaled budesonide, a corticosteroid used in the long-term management of asthma, could also reduce recovery times.

This study was supported by the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). MedRxiv, a preprint server for health sciences, published the findings of the phase 2 randomised study on 8th February. Half of the 146 participants who took part in the trial took two daily doses of the 800mg medication. The other half were treated through usual care.

Those who took the budesonide were found to have their relative risk of requiring hospitalisation reduced by 90% over the course of the 28-day trial. They were also found to recover more quickly from symptoms of fever and to have suffered from fewer persistent symptoms after the trial had concluded. The trial was led by Professor Mona Bafadfel, of the University’s Nuffield Department of Health.

Professor Bafadfel, who is also a Respiratory Consultant working at the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said in an official statement:

“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.”

She continued:

“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 trial was part of the STOIC study, sponsored by the University of Oxford, set up to look into effective drug treatments for COVID-19. It was undertaken by the Oxford BRC and supported by AstraZeneca.

The study also demonstrated that there was a reduction in persistent symptoms in those who received budesonide.  On this, Professor Bafadhel remarks:

“Although not the primary outcome of the 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. Any intervention which could address this would be a major step forward.”

This trail was inspired by the fact that, at the start of the pandemic, patients with chronic respiratory disease, who are often prescribed inhaled steroids, were significantly under-represented among those admitted to hospital.