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Inexpensive Nasal Spray Prevents COVID-19 Infection in Ferrets, Shows Promise for Human Trials

A multi-institutional research team has developed a nasal spray that effectively blocks absorption of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in ferrets with direct contact to infected animals, indicating the product could potentially protect against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infection. While promising, the researchers say the nasal spray still needs to be tested in humans.

The intranasal spray consists of a lipopeptide, or a cholesterol particle that is linked to a chain of amino acids. This lipopeptide matches the stretch of amino acids in the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2 exactly. The pathogen uses the spike protein to attach to a human airway or lung cell, fusing into the cell wall and injecting its RNA. The lipopeptide in the spray intervenes in this process by attaching itself onto one of the spike’s amino acid chains, thereby preventing viral attachment.

Testing of the intranasal fusion inhibitor lipopeptide spray was conducted by researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center in New York, Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands and Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

In their study researchers performed daily intranasal administration of the fusion inhibitor lipopeptide spray to six ferrets divided into three cages. Two ferrets were also placed into the three different cages. One of the two extra ferrets received a placebo spray, and the other had been infected with SARS-CoV-2 deliberately a day or two days earlier.

The spray completely prevented direct-contact transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during a 24-hour co-housing period with infected animals. All of the untreated animals that had direct exposure to the virus had an infection at the end of the study.

The investigators of the small animal study suggest the intranasal lipopeptides are non-toxic and highly stable “and thus readily translate into a safe and effective intranasal prophylactic approach to reduce transmission of SARS-CoV-2.” The paper describing the study, which has been posted first to the preprint server bioRxiv, has been submitted to Science for peer review.

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