New aerosol formulation could prevent, treat COVID-19

A new aerosol formulation could halt the spread of SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19.

Scientists at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) have devised a “novel approach” to tackling the virus. Led by UCSF graduate student Michael Schoof, a team of researchers engineered a synthetic, production-ready molecule that ‘straitjackets’ the crucial SARS-CoV-2 machinery that allows the virus to infect cells.

The university said experiments using live virus show the molecule is among the most potent SARS-CoV-2 antivirals yet discovered.

In an aerosol formulation the scientists tested, dubbed ‘AeroNabs’, these molecules could be self-administered via a nasal spray or inhaler. Used once a day, AeroNabs could provide “powerful, reliable protection” against the virus, until a vaccine becomes available, according to researchers.

The team is in active discussions with commercial partners to ramp up manufacturing and clinical testing of AeroNabs. If successful, scientists aim to make the product widely available as an inexpensive, over-the-counter medication to prevent and treat COVID-19.

Peter Walter, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and co-inventor of AeroNabs, said: “Far more effective than wearable forms of personal protective equipment (PPE), 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.”

Schoof, a member of the Walter lab and AeroNabs co-inventor, added: “We assembled an incredible group of talented biochemists, cell biologists, virologists, and structural biologists to get the project from start to finish in only a few months.”

The researchers tested multiple options for AeroNabs, but found that thanks to the inherent stability of nanobodies, there was no loss of antiviral potency in the aerolised form, suggesting AeroNabs are a potent SARS-CoV-2 antiviral that could be practical to administer via a shelf-stable inhaler or nasal spray.

Co-inventor Aashish Manglik, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, said: “We are not alone in thinking that AeroNabs are a remarkable technology. Our team is in ongoing discussions with potential commercial partners who are interested in manufacturing and distributing AeroNabs, and we hope to commence human trials soon.

“If AeroNabs prove as effective as we anticipate, they may help reshape the course of the pandemic worldwide.”

Full details can be found on the UCSF website.

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