UBC researchers say nasal spray could be the newest defense against COVID-19

Co-author Connor Thompson and UBC researcher Annika Schulz working in the Jean lab. Paul Joseph

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have been part of a team that has developed a nasal spray that could help treat COVID-19.

The spray has shown to be a highly effective treatment for COVID-19 caused by the Delta variant in mice.

The compound is a collaboration between UBC, Université de Sherbrooke and Cornell University, and has been effective against all COVID-19 variants to date, researchers said and could be a first step in developing a spray for humans.

“Once approved, this compound could be used in combination with already available drugs that inhibit the virus’ replication, to provide a stronger defense against COVID-19 variants of concern,” Dr. François Jean, an associate professor in the department of microbiology and immunology, said in a UBC report.

He added Canada may see another wave of the Omicron variant that is spreading through Europe and China and the nasal spray could build stronger immunity.

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A compound in the spray, named N-0385, helps prevent COVID-19 by blocking the virus’s ability to infect a cell, according to Jean. UBC has tested four variants, including Delta, and found the spray prevents infections with no toxicity.

Researchers at Cornell University show that mice infected with COVID-19 and treated with the spray four times a day all survived the infection, while only 20 per cent of untreated mice did. The studies also found the N-0385 compound was also shown to help prevent the Delta variant’s effectiveness given 12 hours after infection to mice, compared to the untreated ones.

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A nasal spray mechanism was found to be the most effective way to administer N-0385, Jean said, as the virus tends to enter through the nasal passage. The compound could also be used as a treatment for other viruses, such as influenza A, H1N1 and influenza C, making the spray a go-to when a patient is unsure of which virus they’ve caught, he added.

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“Even not knowing what you’ve been infected with during flu season, you could potentially be prescribed a nasal spray to treat coronaviruses and the flu,” Jean said.

The spray would be most effective in collaboration with other drugs, Jean explained, as N-0385 targets blocking the entry point of the virus, minimizing the work other drugs do to treat the virus.

The three universities are currently working with a private company, Ebiva, to secure funding for clinical trials.

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