ABSTRACTBackgroundSARS-CoV2 infection causes severe, life-threatening pneumonia. Hyper-inflammation, coagulopathy and lymphopenia are associated with pathology and poor outcomes in these patients. Cell-free (cf) DNA is prominent in COVID-19 patients, amplifies inflammation and promotes coagulopathy and immune dysfunction. We hypothesized that cf-DNA clearance by nebulised dornase alfa may reduce inflammation and improve disease outcomes. Here, we evaluated the efficacy of nebulized dornase alfa in patients hospitalised with severe COVID-19 pneumonia.MethodsIn this randomised controlled single-centre phase 2 proof-of-concept trial, we recruited adult patients admitted to hospital that exhibited stable oxygen saturation (≥94%) on supplementary oxygen and a C-reactive protein (CRP) level ≥30mg/L post dexamethasone treatment. Participants were randomized at a 3:1 ratio to receive twice-daily nebulised dornase alfa in addition to best available care (BAC) or BAC alone for seven days or until hospital discharge. A 2:1 ratio of historical controls to treated individuals (HC, 2:1) were included as the primary endpoint comparators. The primary outcome was a reduction in systemic inflammation measured by blood CRP levels over 7 days post-randomisation, or to discharge if sooner. Secondary and exploratory outcomes included time to discharge, time on oxygen, D-dimer levels, lymphocyte counts and levels of circulating cf-DNA.ResultsWe screened 75 patients and enrolled 39 participants out of which 30 in dornase alfa arm, and 9 in BAC group. We also matched the recruited patients in the treated group (N=30) to historical controls in the BAC group (N=60). For the the primary outcome, 30 patients in the dornase alfa were compared to 69 patients in the BAC group. Dornase alfa treatment reduced CRP by 33% compared to the BAC group at 7-days (P=0.01). The dornase alfa group least squares mean CRP was 23.23 mg/L (95% CI 17.71 to 30.46) and the BAC group 34.82 mg/L (95% CI 28.55 to 42.47). A significant difference was also observed when only randomised participants were compared. Furthermore, compared to the BAC group, the chance of live discharge was increased by 63% in the dornase alfa group (HR 1.63, 95% CI 1.01 to 2.61, P=0.03), lymphocyte counts were improved (least-square mean: 1.08 vs 0.87, P=0.02) and markers of coagulopathy such as D-dimer were diminished (least-square mean: 570.78 vs 1656.96μg/mL, P=0.004). Moreover, the dornase alfa group exhibited lower circulating cf-DNA levels that correlated with CRP changes over the course of treatment. No differences were recorded in the rates and length of stay in the ICU or the time on oxygen between the groups. Dornase alfa was well-tolerated with no serious adverse events reported.ConclusionsIn this proof-of-concept study in patients with severe COVID-19 pneumonia, treatment with nebulised dornase alfa resulted in a significant reduction in inflammation, markers of immune pathology and time to discharge. The effectiveness of dornase alfa in patients with acute respiratory infection and inflammation should be investigated further in larger trials.