The findings were made following a mid-stage study of the steroid budesonide, sold as Pulmicort by AstraZeneca Plc and also used for treating smoker’s lung.
The 28-day study of 146 patients suggested that inhaled budesonide reduced the risk of urgent care or hospitalization by 90% when compared with usual care, Oxford University said.
Researchers said the trial was inspired by the fact that patients with chronic respiratory disease, who are often prescribed inhaled steroids, were significantly under-represented among hospitalized COVID-19 patients during early days of the pandemic.
Initial data from the study also found volunteers treated with budesonide had a quicker resolution of fever and fewer persistent symptoms.
“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 Mona Bafadhel, lead investigator of the trial.
Pulmicort was once a blockbuster drug for coronavirus vaccine-maker AstraZeneca, which now offers a newer medicine, Symbicort, as an alternative asthma treatment.
Results from the Oxford University study are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal.