Budesonide, a cheap and widely available drug used to treat asthma, has been found to shorten recovery time by 3 days for over-50s with Covid-19.
The trial, led by scientists from Oxford University, involved more than 1,700 patients with symptomatic Covid-19 who were at risk of getting seriously ill from the virus.
The patients involved were either over 50 with comorbidities (such as a weakened immune system, heart disease or lung disease) or over 65 with no underlying health conditions.
In total, 751 patients were given budesonide and asked to inhale the drug twice a day for 14 days. They were then followed up for 28 days to determine whether their recovery time was affected.
The median recovery time was three days faster than those without the drug
The study found that the median recovery time was three days faster than those without the drug, and that 32% of those taking it recovered within 14 days. This compares with 22% in the "usual care" group.
Those who were given "usual care" were advised to rest and take paracetamol.
Asthma patients were under-represented in severely-ill hospital patients with Covid. The drugs they took to treat their condition are now thought to be the reason behind this.
Promising evidence that 'could change clinical practice around the world'
Although the paper has not yet been peer-reviewed, the researchers say it provides promising results that could change clinical practice around the world.
Gail Hayward, a co-principal investigator in the trial, said: “I think this does have significant implications for the world as this is the first time a treatment has been shown to be beneficial for patients in their community.
“The majority of patients who get Covid are in the community. Something that can help them feel better three days sooner is significant.”
The Department of Health and Social Care is currently working on a national roll out of budesonide, with the hope of providing at-home treatment where appropriate.
Although there is no strong evidence yet, there were also early signs that the drug could reduce hospital admissions. However, the researchers warn that more data is needed before this can be confirmed.
The joint chief investigator Chris Butler, a GP and professor of primary care at Oxford University, said: “Our paper has found evidence that a relatively cheap, widely available drug with very few side-effects helps people at higher risk of worse outcomes from Covid-19 recover quicker, stay better once they feel recovered, and improves their well-being.”
“We therefore anticipate that medical practitioners around the world caring for people with Covid-19 in the community may wish to consider this evidence when making treatment decisions, as it should help people with Covid-19 recover quicker.”