In the race to find a treatment that works against COVID-19, scientists have tested drugs that prevent viruses in human cells as well as those that can calm the immune system so that the body’s response to infection is less severe .
Now a Canadian company is trying a different strategy. Using a specially designed nasal spray, he hopes to make subjects’ airways hostile to the virus so that an infection cannot begin.
The company, SaNOtize Research and Development Corp. from Vancouver, announced Wednesday that it has received approval from Health Canada to begin a clinical trial of its method, which is dependent on the delivery of nitric oxide to the upper respiratory tract.
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The chemical, which has antiviral properties, is released from a liquid solution developed by the company and which can be used in different ways, including as a nasal spray. Laboratory tests performed last week at the Utah State University Antiviral Research Institute show that the solution is effective against the virus that causes COVID-19.
If the same approach works in people, it opens the door to preventive treatment for those who are at high risk of exposure to COVID-19, including front-line health workers. More broadly, it could help protect anyone in a public place once the physical distance measures are lifted.
“We are trying to move this file forward quickly and provide prevention that would help us resume our social and economic activities while waiting for a vaccine to be developed,” said Chris Miller, the company’s scientific director, who studied the potential of nitric oxide. as an antimicrobial agent since the 1990s.
This hope is offset by the reality that, to date, no drug has been shown to be safe and effective in treating COVID-19 according to treatment guidelines released Tuesday by the United States National Institutes of Health.
Nitric oxide – not to be confused with nitrous oxide or laughing gas – is a simple molecule made up of a nitrogen and an oxygen atom. Due to its small size and biochemical properties, it easily enters cells and plays several roles in the human body.
One of these roles is to serve as a short-range weapon against foreign invaders when produced by immune cells. Nitric oxide has also been shown to deter viruses, including the flu, and in a 2009 study, the SARS coronavirus.
Dr. Miller said the tiny but reactive molecule would alter the coronavirus protein crown that it uses to attach to cells. Inside cells, it can also interfere with the ability of the virus to replicate.
In a hospital environment, gas can be safely delivered to a patient’s airway from a pressurized bottle. This method is currently being studied at a number of sites as a potential treatment for people infected with COVID-19. In a randomized trial, led by Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, nitric oxide is also given to hospital workers for 15 minutes before and after their shift to see if it reduces their infection rate.
“We hope this will prevent caregivers from developing the disease,” said Robert Kacmarek, director of respiratory care at the hospital, in an interview with WBUR radio in Boston.
SaNOtize is distinguished by the use of a solution that releases nitric oxide at the required dose and to the point where it is needed without hospital equipment or expert supervision.
Dr. Miller said the clinical trial, which could start recruiting subjects as early as next week, would test a combined use of the solution through daily gargling, thorough nasal rinsing and repeated application as a nasal spray.
“It’s a bit like a hand sanitizer for the nose,” he said.
The test will determine if a group of subjects in an environment at high risk of infection is less likely than a control group to develop symptoms of COVID-19. People in the infected control group will then be offered the solution as a form of early treatment in a separate part of the trial.
Before the COVID-19 epidemic, Dr. Miller said that he and his colleagues were testing the solution as a treatment for chronic sinusitis. This previous work allowed them to pivot quickly when the pandemic struck.
Besides humans, the company has also tested the solution for the effective prevention of ship fever, a disease of livestock caused by a combination of bacterial and viral infections.
John Church, a researcher at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, who is collaborating on tests on cattle, said the solution was effective along with antibiotics to reduce infections.
“I was really surprised at how long the effect lasted,” he said.
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