UCSF scientists develop nasal spray to fight COVID-19

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As the world waits for a coronavirus vaccine, scientists at the University of California, San Francisco say they have developed molecules which can help fight the virus. They say these synthetic antibodies, called AeroNabs, can be administered as a nasal spray to protect people from coronavirus.

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While it's not a traditional vaccine, they believe one spray daily, could protect you from the virus. And if you've never run across an AeroNab, don't worry. You may soon be inhaling one.

"Because it's so stable we can essentially put in one of these, this is a little nebulizer," said Dr. Aashish Manglik, M.D., Ph.D. of UCSF.

Dr. Manglik says the aerosolized agents known as Aeronab's trace back to a tiny molecule first discovered in camels and similar animals, called a nanobody. They're smaller than human antibodies, and can be manipulated to perform specific tasks. Like attaching themselves to the spike proteins on the coronavirus.

"It's effectively a really effective mousetrap. It binds to one of these spike proteins and never lets go," he explained.

The UCSF team poured through roughly two billion synthetic nanobodies, before they found the best candidate. Then they re-engineered it to be even more potent. Knowing the COVID virus uses its spikes to attach itself to a specific part of the lung cell called an Ace2 receptor, they worked to stop the invasion in its tracks. When AeroNabs bind to the spike protein, the virus can't attach itself to the receptor and loses its ability to infect cells.

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The main challenge left, how to best get it into the body. The UCSF team says AeroNabs are stable enough to be turned into an effective aerosol. A powerful medication, patients could potentially inhale to protect themselves from infection.

"Really, the ability of an AeroNap to be delivered to the airways and to attack the virus directly that gives it this incredible power," says team member Peter Walter, PH.D.

The UCSF team is now in talks with potential partners to ramp up production for clinical trials. If successful, they envision the AeroNabs being used as a kind of super-flu formula to keep patients healthy from being infected, or potentially treat an early infection. All, by inhaling a simple mist.

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