In early testing, nasal spray shows signs it can fight COVID-19
- While COVID-19 vaccines have been very effective in helping people avoid hospitalization and death from the coronavirus, they have not been as effective in stopping symptomatic infection.
- Now researchers are in the early stages of seeing if a nasal spray can stop the disease.
- Early studies in mice have shown that a nasal spray can help prevent the virus from infecting cells.
More than two years into the pandemic, researchers are still looking for new and better ways to help people avoid COVID-19.
Although COVID-19 vaccines and boosters have been helpful in protecting people from serious hospitalizations and death, they have been less effective in preventing symptomatic cases of the disease.
Now researchers are investigating new ways to prevent COVID-19 from infecting human cells.
The study is still in its early stages and is currently only being tested in mice. But experts hope that this type of study can contribute to better protection against the virus.
The nasal spray releases a molecule that can help prevent the virus from attaching to cells in the nose and airways.
Researchers have found that one molecule, N-0385, can both protect against infection in healthy subjects and relieve symptoms in patients if used within 12 hours of exposure to COVID-19.
The coronavirus attacks cells with its spike protein. This protein helps the virus gain access to human cells. It does this by binding to a receptor on healthy cells. The team found a small group of molecules, including N-0385, that could block the spike protein from attaching to cells in their mouse studies.
All tests on laboratory mice showed that the introduced molecule stopped the main symptoms of COVID-19 infection in mice.
The molecule was developed in collaboration with a team from the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec.
“The problem with the [vaccine] blows is that they do not affect the transmission. What they do is amazing because they prevent serious diseases, which is the whole point. But it would be even better if we could prevent transmission,” said Dr. Jennifer Lighter, pediatric infectious disease specialist at NYU Langone. “With the nasal spray, what you can imagine is that it starts working faster in a localized area. There is hope that your mucosal immunity would increase faster and be able to kill the virus before that it does not become a breakthrough infection.
Experts are quick to point out that there is not yet enough evidence that it will work in humans or become widely available. But this research could help lead to better preventive treatments in the future.
“First of all, it’s a very good idea. Could something be used that could be an over-the-counter drug, or is easily applied by an individual, prevent getting COVID-19 at all, or reduce its severity very quickly? Those are the two ideas,” said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and health policy, professor in the division of infectious diseases, Vanderbilt University. “But does it work for People? The authors of this study are enthusiastic, but it’s a big if.
Schaffner explained that while we’re trying to prevent or treat COVID-19, we don’t know what the daily dose is, how often to spray it in the nose, etc.
“Safety-wise, it’s good that it didn’t make any mice sick, but what’s it going to do to a human’s nose?” Will it be red? Will there be inflammation? Who knows what it will do,” he added.
Another problem is that the airways of mice are very short. In humans, it is much longer. This raises questions as to whether or not the spray will reach the back of the throat, nasopharynx and upper respiratory tract to treat the infection.
“You have to try it in people. It’s wonderful to know that, but we need to look at the human clinical trial to see how it works,” Schaffner said.
Nasal spray vaccines have already been developed to treat other respiratory illnesses, including seasonal flu.
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these sprays for the 2021-2022 season are designed to
The nasal spray for COVID-19 would work differently than the one for the flu.
In order to determine how humans respond to the COVID-19 spray, testing needs to be moved from mice to humans, which requires significant investment and time.
Currently, EBVIA Therapeutics, Inc. is raising funds so that human trials can begin. If these trials are successful, they hope to be able to move on to distribution to the general public.
“The reason mRNA vaccines became available so quickly was because there was so much funding. We were able to do many steps [to make an approved vaccine] simultaneously,” Lighter said. “Now that there are vaccines available and safe, not all resources are devoted to obtaining effective alternative vaccines.”
The study authors hope that if funding and testing are successful, the spray could be available to the public in six months.
Lighter said she expects it to likely be closer to a year before the nasal becomes widely available to the public, and only if human trials are successful.