According to a small study published by an international team of scientists on Thursday, a nasal spray that blocks the absorption of the SARS-CoV-2 virus completely protected weasels it was tried on. experience. The study is limited to animals and has not been peer reviewed, and has been evaluated by several medical experts at the request of The New York Times.
If the aerosol, described by the scientists as non-toxic and stable, is proven to work in humans, it could provide a new way to fight the pandemic. The daily runny nose will act like a vaccine.
“Having something new that works against coronavirus is very interesting,”; said Dr. Arturo Casadevall, president of immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who was not involved in the study. “I can imagine this as part of an arsenal.”
The work has been conducted by scientists from Columbia University Medical Center in New York, Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, Cornell University in Ithaca, NY and the University of Campania in Italy. The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Columbia University Medical Center.
The team will ask for additional funding to pursue human clinical trials. Dr. Anne Moscona, a Columbia pediatrician and microbiologist and co-author of the study, said she had a patent on the product and she hopes Columbia University will approach the Warp Speed’s Campaign. The federal government or major pharmaceutical companies are looking for new ways to fight coronavirus.
The spray attacks the virus directly. It contains lipopeptide, a cholesterol particle linked to an amino acid chain, the building blocks of proteins. This particular lipopeptide exactly matches a fragment of amino acids in the virus’s mutant protein, which pathogens use to attach to human airways or lung cells.
Before the virus can inject its RNA into the cell, the spike must decompress effectively, exposing two amino acid chains, to fuse with the cell wall. When the tip pulls back to complete the process, the lipopeptide in the spray will insert itself, attach to one of the tip’s amino acid chains and prevent the virus from attaching.
Matteo Porotto, a microbiologist at Columbia University and one of the authors of the article, said: “It’s like you’re pulling on a zipper but putting another zipper inside, so two parties cannot meet.
The work was described in an article posted to the bioRxiv preprinting server on Thursday morning, and was submitted to Science for peer evaluation.
Dr. Peter J. Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said the therapy looked “really promising.”
“What I want to know now is how easy it is to scale up production,” he said.
In the study, the spray was given to six weasels, which were then divided into pairs and placed in three cages. In each cage were two weasels that had been given placebo injections and one weasel that had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 a day or two earlier.
Weasels are used by scientists studying influenza, SARS, and other respiratory diseases because they can catch viruses through the nose as much as humans, although they also infect each other when exposed to feces. or by scratching and biting.
After 24 hours together, no weasel had been sprayed with the disease; all the weasels in the placebo group did.
“Replication of the virus was completely blocked,” the authors write.
Moscona said the protective spray latches onto the cells in the nose and lungs and lasts about 24 hours. “If it works well in humans, you can either sleep in bed with an infected person or stay with your infected kids and still be safe,” she said.
Amino acids from a mutant protein segment in the coronavirus rarely mutate. Scientists tested it against four different variants of the virus, including both the famous “Wuhan” and “Italian” strains, as well as against the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS.
In cell culture, it provided complete protection against all pandemic virus strains, against SARS and partly against MERS quite well.
Lipoprotein can be produced as an inexpensive lyophilized white powder, Dr. Moscona said. Your doctor or pharmacist can mix the powder with sugar and water to make a nasal spray.
Other laboratories have designed antibodies and “small proteins” that also prevent the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells, but they are chemically more complex and may need to be stored at heat. cold degree.
Dr. Moscona and Dr. Porotto have been collaborating on similar “fusion inhibitors” peptides for 15 years, they said during a conference call. They have developed several types to fight measles, Nipah, parainfluenza and other viruses.
But those products have not attracted commercial interest, Dr. Porotto said, because effective measles vaccines already exist and because the deadly Nipah virus appears only occasionally in places as far away as Bangladesh and Malaysia.
Monoclonal antibodies to the new coronavirus have been shown to prevent infection as well as treat it, but they are expensive to produce, require cryopreservation and must be injected. Australian scientists tested a nasal spray against Covid-19 on mink, but it works by boosting the immune system, rather than targeting the virus directly.
Because lipopeptides can be transported as a dry powder, they can be used even in rural areas in poor countries that lack refrigerators, says Dr. Moscona.
Dr. Moscona, a pediatrician who often works on influenza and other viruses that infect children, said she is most interested in bringing this product to poor countries where it may never be. access to monoclonal antibodies and mRNA vaccines that Americans may soon have. But she has little experience in that arena, she said.