A CUTTING edge Southampton drug research company has taken a key step forward in its battle to come up with a medical defence against swine flu.

Southampton General Hospital-based Synairgen has just completed lab tests that show its drug Inhaled Interferon Beta has a “potent” impact on the virus.

Although the product still faces a long route to market and will probably need a large pharmaceutical company as a partner, if successful it has the potential to corner a slice of a multi-billion-pound global market.

It will be particularly welcome news for Synairgen’s embattled investors, who were tapped for £6.35m to fund further research in May this year. Shares, which have been as high as £1.60 each in January 2005 before plummeting to just 16p, soared almost 75 per cent on the news and were last night trading at 51p.

Experiments on the potentially killer virus at Porton Down, home of Britain’s chemical and biological weapons research facility, show the spread of the 2009 H1N1 strain of the influenza virus, known as swine flu, were severely curtailed by Synairgen’s techniques.

Designed for asthma sufferers and other people with breathing problems who are most at risk from swine flu, Synairgen’s process aims to bolster the body’s defences rather than attack the virus head-on. Instead, Synairgen prevents respiratory viruses spreading from the nose and throat to the lungs, where the condition becomes most dangerous.

The tests showed infection levels down between 94 and 100 per cent, apparently confirming the company’s belief in the drug.

Richard Marsden, chief executive officer, said: “Having already shown Interferon Beta activity against the main common cold viruses, rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), we can now add H1N1 to our existing body of evidence, and will be continuing further experiments with other flu viruses.”