Covid-19: American researchers are working on a protective nasal spray

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American researchers are working on a nasal spray that would protect against the coronavirus by helping cells in the nose and throat develop an immune response against the virus. In short, a kind of mini nasal vaccine.

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania (United States) are currently working on the development of a protective nasal spray against Covid-19, in partnership with the biotechnology company Regeneron.

The idea is to use a gene therapy approach to induce an immune response, not at the level of the organism as in the case of vaccines, but at the level of the nasopharyngeal sphere, the gateway to sars-CoV-2.

As a supplement to the Covid vaccine, such a nasal spray could offer around six months of protection against the virus in a single spray in the nasal cavity.

The idea is to use a weakened virus to carry genetic instructions to cells in the nasopharyngeal sphere, so that they create antibodies against the new coronavirus. In this way, the virus would not have time to invade the body and trigger the Covid-19 disease, it would stop as soon as it entered.

"The advantage of our approach is that you do not need a competent immune system for this to work," said James Wilson, professor of medicine and coordinator of the project.

The team discovered that adeno-associated viruses (or AAV for adeno-associated viruses), small non-pathogenic DNA viruses, which exist in both humans and primates, could make possible the transport of genes in cells. This approach led in 2019 to the approval of Zolgensma, the first gene therapy for the treatment of proximal spinal muscular atrophy. Since then, AAVs have been studied for other therapeutic applications.

As early as February 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the US government contacted Professor Wilson and his team to determine if this technology could be useful against this coronavirus.

It was then that the biotech company Regeneron developed two synthetic antibodies (the same ones that were administered to President Trump) that Professor Wilson and his team was able to accelerate the design of a nasal spray. The objective would then be that the genetic inheritance injected by the nasal spray causes the epithelial cells of the nose to produce the Regeneron antibodies. A way to limit the infection to the nasal area and prevent it from spreading to the lungs.

At the moment, this nasal spray is being tested in animal models, work that the researchers hope to complete by next January. After this first step, they can apply to the US Food and Drug Administration, the US drug control authority, for authorization to conduct clinical trials in humans.

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