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A nasally delivered SARS-CoV-2 fusion inhibitor has stopped the spread of the coronavirus in animals. The preclinical findings offer encouragement ahead of the generation of data on the effect of the spray on humans.

Writing in Science, researchers describe testing of a candidate developed by Columbia University and Cornell University. The collaborators designed lipopeptide molecules, which are stable at room temperature, to prevent fusion between the viral and host cell membranes. As fusion is the essential first step in infection, the molecules could treat COVID-19 and prevent transmission.

The importance of the nose to the spread of the coronavirus makes nasal administration a way to get high concentrations of the lipopeptide fusion inhibitors to where they are needed most. Other teams are working on nasal sprays to prevent and treat COVID-19 for the same reasons. 

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Having created a nasal spray, the Columbia and Cornell researchers, working with a group at Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, evaluated how ferrets responded to the formulation. Ferrets were chosen as they are susceptible to infection with the coronavirus but suffer limited clinical signs.  

The preclinical study linked daily nasal administration to the complete prevention of direct-contact transmission between infected and uninfected ferrets that spent 24 hours in the same housing. The nasal spray was given to the uninfected ferrets. In a control group, all of the untreated, uninfected ferrets caught the coronavirus.

Buoyed by the findings, the researchers wrote that the formulation “should readily translate into a safe and effective nasal spray or inhalation administered fusion inhibitor for SARS-CoV-2 prophylaxis, supporting containment of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.” Work to assess the effect of the spray on infected subjects is already underway. 

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