A NASAL spray that could help prevent COVID-19 and the common cold is one step closer to hitting the market after a $32 million investment from the likes of Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest.
An Australian researcher behind the spray, Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett, said the medication known as INNA-X was a first-in-class treatment which could provide "almost immediate" protection against not only Sars-COV-2 but multiple respiratory viruses.
"The focus is on COVID at the moment, given the pandemic," Associate Professor Bartlett said. "The spray activates innate immunity in the nasal cavity and throat, where the virus lands. It provides that early protection in order to contain that infection."
Early studies show the spray to be effective both before and after early exposure to COVID-19, meaning it could be a valuable tool for people at high risk of exposure, such as those working in quarantine or in hospitals.
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The $32 million funding from Brandon Capital, the Minderoo Foundation - established by Andrew and Nicola Forrest - and Uniseedwould allow them to undertake the human trials of the treatment, with phase one poised to begin.
"With this funding, the way is clear," Associate Professor Bartlett, a NSW virologist with the University of Newcastle and Hunter Medical Research Institute, said.
"Now we have the money and support we need to do the clinical trials we need to eventually get this approved for use in the population."
The treatment would be complimentary to vaccines.
"It can be given to people who aren't vaccinated, or to people for whom vaccines don't work particularly well, or people whose vaccine protection may have waned, and people who are highly susceptible to respiratory viruses," he said.
"It is going to fill a lot of gaps that are currently hampering our ability to get ahead of this pandemic."
Associate Professor Bartlett had been developing the drug with ENA Respiratory for the past six years for viruses like rhinovirus, that can cause the common cold but also trigger serious illness like asthma exacerbation.
"By doing that, we understood how this drug worked and we understood how effective it was at providing frontline protection in our airways for a respiratory virus," he said.
"So when COVID-19 emerged, we already had a drug that we had a fairly good understanding of. We had enough evidence to try it in a model of COVID-19, and we could quickly demonstrate that not only does it work on the viruses were were working on, it also protects against Sars-COV-2.
"That was collectively all the information we needed to secure the funding we now have for the clinical human trials. We are extremely excited."