Antiviral nasal spray may fight coronavirus, study finds

A nasal spray that may fend off coronavirus has been formulated by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, according to a report. The researchers are now working to get it clinically tested and manufactured.

The aerosol spray, called AeroNabs, is an antiviral aimed at preventing COVID-19, though it is not a cure, the researchers stated in a release. They added it could be a good weapon against novel coronavirus until a vaccine is found, or a potential alternative for those who don’t respond to a vaccine.

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“Far more effective than wearable forms of personal protective equipment, we think of AeroNabs as a molecular form of PPE that could serve as an important stopgap until vaccines provide a more permanent solution to COVID-19,” said Peter Walter, Ph.D., professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, in a press release.

“For those who cannot access or don’t respond to SARS-CoV-2 vaccines, AeroNabs could be a more permanent line of defense against COVID-19,” Walter, who is also the AeroNabs co-inventor, added.

The scientists stated in the release that they were inspired by nanobodies, which are like antibodies found in llamas and camels.

“Though they function much like the antibodies found in the human immune system, nanobodies offer a number of unique advantages for effective therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2,” said co-inventor Aashish Manglik, MD, Ph.D., an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, in a statement.

Coronavirus/COVID-19. (3D Rendering)
(redit:BlackJack3D/ iStock)

The researchers explained that the SARS-CoV-2 relies on spike proteins to infect human cells.

“They are the essential key that allows the virus to enter our cells,” they said.

The researchers explained that when the coronavirus particle’s activate, the spikes receptors become primed to attach to ACE2 (angiotensin-converting enzyme 2) inhibitors that are found in human cells that line the nasal passageway, lungs and airway. Researchers in the field of coronavirus recently told Fox News that this is the virus’ point of entry.

The authors explained in the report that they developed “single-domain antibodies (nanobodies) that potently disrupt the interaction between the SARS-CoV-2 Spike and ACE2.” They were able to create synthetic nanobodies in a yeast surface and found that the nanobodies bound to the spikes and blocked the ACE2 interaction, thus blocking the virus from invading the host.

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The investigators explained in the news release that the most potent nanobodies act not only like a sheath surrounding the spike receptors, but also like a “molecular mousetrap, clamping down on spike in its closed, inactive state, which adds an additional layer of protection against the spike–ACE2 interactions that lead to infection.”

The nanobodies remained a potent SARS-CoV-2 antiviral when tested in an aerosolized form, according to the news release. These mean it could be practical to administer via a shelf-stable inhaler or nasal spray. This aerosol form could provide a “patient-friendly prophylactic and/or early infection therapeutic agent to stem the worst pandemic in a century,” the researchers said.