Columbia University-led Study Identifies Powerful Nasal Spray to Combat COVID-19 as Prophylaxis

Columbia University-led Study Identifies Powerful Nasal Spray to Combat COVID-19 as Prophylaxis

With funding from both Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a multicenter, preclinical animal study, led by Columbia University Medical Center, and supported by researchers from Netherlands-based Erasmus Medical Center and Cornell University, suggest that a nasal spray can actually block the absorption of SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. As a consequence of this effort, the study authors have declared that the early-stage, investigational treatment can completely protect the particular animal used in this study, ferrets. The study team designed a dimeric lipopeptide fusion inhibitor that actually blocks the virus, and its mediating viral spike protein, from entering the host membrane, hence completely protecting the subjects of the study. According to the researcher’s published manuscript, still not peer-reviewed, the investigational lipopeptides are not only stable and non-toxic but are easily converted into an effective nasal spray that could potentially be used in an intranasal prophylactic approach to reduce transmission of COVID-19.

Investor Watch: A Potential Opportunity

The inventors have filed for provisional patents and include Rory D. de Vries (Erasmus Medical Center), Francesca T. Bovier (Columbia), Rik L. de Swart (Erasmus Medical Center), Anne Moscona (Columbia) and Matteo Porotto (Columbia) shared in the disclosures that they are the inventors of this investigational agent.

Donald G. McNeil Jr., writing for the New York Times, shared that one of the inventors, Dr. Anne Moscona, a Columbia pediatrician and microbiologist, disclosed that more funding would be necessary for human-based clinical trials and that she even hoped that her university (Columbia) might approach the public-private partnership Operation Warp Speed (OWS) or large pharmaceutical companies for funding. TrialSite publishes her as part of Investor Watch as thousands of investors visit the website weekly.

Remdesivir has already produced over $1 billion within six months of its preclinical phase. This is despite the fact that it must be given intravenously in a hospital setting, and the efficacy of that product has come under question. Imagine the value of a safe and easy to use nontoxic and stable spray, as Mr. McNeil Jr. writes with “A daily spritz up the nose would act like a vaccine.”

How does it Work?

The study team designed the dimeric lipopeptide fusion inhibitor in such a way that it would trick the invading SARS-CoV-2 virus. The New York Times’ McNeil described that the study team designed the spray to actually directly attack the invading virus.

As it turns out, a lipopeptide consists of a cholesterol particle attached to a chain of amino acids, which of course, are building blocks of protein. The study team designed this particular lipopeptide to mimic the key segment of the SARS-CoV-2 spike proteins’ amino acids, the very zone that the invading virus uses to bond to and penetrate the human host airway or lung cell.

So in a way, they set up a clever track for that virus that creates COVID-19. McNeil described the process: “Before a virus can inject its RNA into a cell, the spike must effectively unzip, exposing two chains of amino acids, in order to fuse to the cell wall. As the spike zips back up to complete the process, the lipopeptide in the spray inserts itself, latching on to one of the spike’s amino acid chains and preventing the virus from attaching.”

One of the study team and inventors, Matteo Porotto was quoted, “It’s like you are zipping a zipper but you put another zipper inside, so the two sides cannot meet.”

Scientific Pedigree

This particular team has quite a bit of experience in this general area of research. For example, Dr. Moscona and Dr. Porotto have been spending 15 years developing similar “fusion inhibitor” peptides and have worked on other early-stage initiatives involving measles, Nipah, parainfluenza, etc. reported the New York Times.

Potential Benefits

Should this early-stage pre-IND product ever get commercialized, distinct advantages await this over products such as monoclonal antibodies. The latter demonstrates promise, but they represent a high cost for development and production, require refrigeration and must be intravenously administered. The potential for such nasal spray-based approaches is significant.

Lead Research/Investigators

Rory D. de Vries, PhD 

Francesca T. Bovier, visiting graduate student (part of Moscona Lab)

Rik L. de Swart, PhD, Associate Professor

Anne Moscona, MD 

Matteo Porotto, PhD, Associate Professor of Viral Molecular Pathogenesis

For other study team members view the study at bioRxiv

Call to Action: Investors, including pharma sponsors, should consider a partnership. Check out the article in the New York Times