Researchers at Cornell University are reporting on a novel nasal spray that could prevent the coronavirus from infecting people -- and help fight it off if it does.
The finding here is a new molecule called N-0385 that inhibits the virus' ability to infect cells in the body. Lab experiments at Cornell using mice showed that applications of N-0385 prior to exposure are effective at preventing the mice from being infected, and act as an effective treatment against it if administered up to 12 hours after exposure. The molecule was developed in collaboration with researchers at Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada.
Such a discovery holds promise both in helping us treat cases of coronavirus infections, as well as to reduce the mortality rates among those that have already contracted the virus.
Anti-COVID nasal spray
"There are very few, if any, small molecule antivirals that have been discovered that work to prevent infection," said Hector Aguilar-Carreno, associate professor of virology, and senior author of the paper. "This is the first of its kind".
"One advantage is that it works early in the infection, even after someone has already acquired the virus".
The molecule was tested in mice infected with the first strain of coronavirus detected in the U.S., back in 2020, and against the Delta strain. It has proven efficacious against both. The team, however, did not test it against the Omicron variant so far but are optimistic that N-0385 will work against this as well.
For the study, the team administered the molecule intranasally to the mice before, during, and after infection. They then tracked the mice's weight (as weightloss is a good indication of infection or disease) alongside other clinical and pathological measurements (such as body temperature monitoring). Tissue samples were taken from the mice to better track how their bodies responded to the virus during the experiment.
The treatment was effective at preventing the mice from losing weight when administered prior to exposure -- suggesting it helped insulate the animals from the virus -- and reduced mortality rates in the group where it was administered following infection. It still showed good efficacy even up to 12 hours after infection, the team explains.
Based on these results, the researchers are keen to move their molecule over to human trials. A California-based company, EBVIA Therapeutics, Inc., is currently raising funding for these trials and plans to continue with the development, formulation, and mass production of the compound should these trials be successful. If everything goes to plan, the treatment could be submitted for FDA emergency approval within six months.
"The N-0385 therapy is simpler and less expensive to mass produce than other types of COVID-19 treatments, such as monoclonal antibodies," Aguilar-Carreno said.
The paper "A TMPRSS2 inhibitor acts as a pan-SARS-CoV-2 prophylactic and therapeutic" has been published in the journal Nature.