AeroNabs Antiviral Nasal Spray Developed By UCSF Researchers To Help Prevent Coronavirus Infection

A team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have developed a nasal spray that they claim can ward off the novel coronavirus, The Sacramento Bee reported. The treatment wouldn't require a prescription and could be sold over the counter.

AeroNabs, as the product is being called, is not being touted as a cure. No cure for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, currently exists. Rather, the nasal spray is purportedly a preventative medicine.

Specifically, the team developed a synthetic molecule that operates as a potent antiviral that blocks SARS-CoV-2 -- the pathogen colloquially referred to as the "novel coronavirus" -- from taking hold within the body, said UCSF graduate student Michael Schoof, the lead researcher on the project. Schoof and his partner, AeroNabs co-inventor Peter Walter, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF, were inspired by nanobodies -- proteins similar to antibodies (found in humans) that occur naturally in llamas, camels and related animals.

"Though they function much like the antibodies found in the human immune system, nanobodies offer a number of unique advantages for effective therapeutics against SARS-CoV-2," said Dr. Aashish Manglik, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry.

Nanobodies are smaller, simpler, and easier to manipulate in a laboratory setting than antibodies. Further, they're more stable and cheaper to produce on a mass scale.

a researcher looks through a microscope
Getty Images | Lennart Preiss

In the case of AeroNabs, the substance effectively puts a "straightjacket," as the Bee described it, on the novel coronavirus' ability to infect human cells.

Manglik said that the team is now looking at potential commercial partners to mass-produce and distribute the treatment, pending the outcome of human trials. If the product proves successful on humans, and if a manufacturing partner can be arranged, AeroNabs could be a game-changer when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, he predicted.

"If AeroNabs prove as effective as we anticipate, they may help reshape the course of the pandemic worldwide," he said.

So far, there doesn't appear to be a timeline for when the product will be on store shelves. The nasal spray would be intended only as a placeholder until a vaccine is developed or for use by people who can't or won't get a vaccine. The team predicted that it would be reasonably inexpensive, and available over the counter.

Schoof credited his skilled group of scientists for developing the potentially game-changing treatment.

"We assembled an incredible group of talented biochemists, cell biologists, virologists and structural biologists to get the project from start to finish in only a few months," he said.