Pharmacies will be notified of any supply issues and should continue to order supplies through their usual business routes, the UK chief medical officers (CMOs) wrote in a message published on the central alert system (CAS) yesterday (April 12).
Early treatment with inhaled budesonide has been found to shorten recovery times from COVID-19 in patients over 50 who were treated with it at home or in other community settings, according to findings from the PRINCIPLE COVID-19 clinical trial.
Inhaled budesonide was added to the trial on November 28 last year and a total of 961 patients – who were either over 50 with an underlying health condition or over 65 – were randomly selected to receive it at home.
The trial concluded that treatment “shortens recovery time by a median of three days in patients with COVID-19 who are at higher risk of more severe illness and are treated in the community”.
Inhaled budesonide is the “first widely available, inexpensive drug found to shorten recovery times in COVID-19 patients aged over 50”, according to the PRINCIPLE trial researchers.
Advice to pharmacy teams
Pharmacy teams dispensing inhaled budesonide for the at-home treatment of COVID-19 should ensure patients or their representatives are aware of how to use the inhalers, according to the CAS alert.
They can also signpost patients to additional resources and are encouraged to “report any suspected adverse drug reactions” via the Yellow Card reporting site.
The CMOs specified that the inhaled budesonide is not being recommended as a “standard of care”, but can be used for off-label prescribing on a “case-by-case basis for symptomatic COVID-19 positive patients aged 65 and over, or aged 50 or over with co-morbidities”.
Professor Mahendra Patel, who is pharmacy and ethnic minorities community lead at the PRINCIPLE trial, said “it is exciting to now share the news about the use of budesonide Turbohaler for the early treatment of COVID-19 symptoms in the community”.
“This is a drug commonly used for the treatment of asthma and, in this instance, it has clearly shown to reduce the recovery time within non-hospitalised patients and helps them feel better.
“It’s really encouraging to see pharmacy playing an important role in the PRINCIPLE trial through helping to raise awareness of it UK-wide, across communities and healthcare settings,” he added.
“The PRINCIPLE trial is innovative in that it also allows to introduce new treatments, for example recently with the antiviral favipiravir. Pharmacy can continue to play a crucial role in supporting the trial and help recruiting patients from all backgrounds, including those most adversely affected.
“This creates an exciting opportunity for pharmacy to support future research in healthcare, beyond COVID-19,” Professor Patel said.