Researchers at the University of British Columbia, and collaborators, created a nasal spray that can block the entry of SARS-CoV-2 into cells in the nasal cavity, potentially offering protection and treatment for COVID-19. Excitingly, in lab tests, the spray appears to work against all known variants of the virus, including the Omicron variant, which shows some resistance to our existing vaccines.
The spray dramatically increased survival in a mouse model of severe COVID-19, highlighting its potential as both a treatment and a prophylactic. The spray contains a drug that inhibits an enzyme in the nasal cells that is involved in viral entry into the cells. Such technologies bring us closer to the day when COVID-19 will be easily treatable.
Despite our hopes that the pandemic would disappear into the night, the latest Omicron wave is resulting in high numbers of people in hospital in many countries, in large part due to the sheer numbers of people becoming infected. This latest variant is extremely contagious, and the loosening of restrictions in many regions has led to unprecedented numbers of infections. This highlights the need for further vigilance and new technologies that can help us to take the sting out of this pandemic for good.
3D model of a cell infected with the Delta variant of SARS CoV 2 Credit: Dr Guang Gao UBC LSI Imaging Facility
This latest development may fall into this category. It consists of a drug-loaded nasal spray, and the researchers behind it report that it can prevent the virus from entering the cells within our nose. The drug molecule in the spray has the catchy name N-0385 and the researchers discovered its properties during a drug screen with various cell types and four different viral variants, showing that it could block viral entry into the tested cells.
“The compound is unique because it blocks entry at the cell surface, without having to get into the cell, which prevents it from causing any detectable cell damage,” said Andrea Olmstead, a researcher involved in the study. “As well, it’s highly potent, in that it needs only a tiny amount to work very effectively.”
The researchers have tested the spray in a mouse model of severe COVID-19. Such mice typically die from the infection, but all the mice that were treated using the spray survived, whereas only 20% of the untreated mice survived.
“Unfortunately, with another wave of an Omicron variant hitting the UK, Europe, and China and our knowledge of how these waves occur, this may be what we see in Canada in the near future,” said François Jean, a researcher involved in the study. “Once approved, this compound could be used in combination with already available drugs that inhibit the virus’ replication, to provide a stronger defense against COVID-19 variants of concern.”