Skip to main content

Developing a nasal spray to prevent COVID-19 infection

November 22, 2021
In March 2020, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic due to the emergence of SARS-CoV2, which causes COVID-19, a potentially lethal respiratory infection. To date, apart from the novel Molnupiravir and Ritonavir, there are no orally or nasally administered antiviral agents to prevent or treat SARS-CoV2 infections.
A classic illustration of a coronavirus.
World Health Organization

An antiviral drug administered as a spray or an oral formulation that people could take at home to reduce their symptoms and speed recovery could ease the crushing COVID-19 caseload on hospitals and help to curb outbreaks in countries with weak health-care systems. It would also bolster the two-pronged approach to the pandemic: treatment (by way of medication) and prevention (primarily through vaccinations). 

A team of researchers led by Drs. David Marchant and Frederick West of the University of Alberta focused on the lead optimization and prototype development of a broad-spectrum nasal antiviral pharmaceutical preparation (RespVirex). This spray could be used to protect health-care workers and high-risk patients from SARS-CoV2. The researchers have chemically modified RespVirex, making it ideal for large-scale production because of high yields and its superior purity level. In addition, experiments with cell and animal models achieved lead optimization of RespVirex’s antiviral efficacy in hamster models infected with SARS-CoV2, as well as of its cellular uptake and  level of distribution in the airway when sprayed and nebulized as an aerosol. 

The project team has developed an effective pocket-size nasal spray, nebulizer and aerosol prototypes with optimal ADME pharmacokinetic properties (absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion). Moreover, with the collaboration of Drs. Ndongo Dia and Christophe Peyrefitte at the Institute Pasteur in Dakar (Senegal), the project demonstrated the efficacy of RespVirex against SARS-CoV2 as well as several respiratory and tropical viral isolates from Africa, indicating that RespVirex can be potentially useful to fight other respiratory infections such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus. Results of this project allowed the team to be in a good position to complete Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) and therefore file an application with Health Canada for approval to conduct a future phase 1 clinical trial in healthy adults. If clinical trials prove to be successful, RespVirex has the potential to become a promising compound and eventually be integrated into the arsenal against COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. 

The project involved researchers from Canada and Senegal. It was selected for funding through the COVID-19 May 2020 Rapid Research Funding Opportunity coordinated by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research in partnership with IDRC and several other health-research funding agencies across Canada.