This New COVID Defense Is "More Effective" Than Your Mask, Scientist Says

The over-the-counter medication would offer powerful—and affordable—coronavirus protection.

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While multiple biotech companies race to develop an effective coronavirus vaccine, other experts have been exploring alternative methods of protection that could provide an interim defense against COVID-19. We know that things like wearing masks and social distancing can help curb the spread of coronavirus, but a group of scientists from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) say they've developed a product that will provide even better protection against the disease than face coverings and other wearable forms of personal protective equipment (PPE): a nasal spray that administers powerful antiviral molecules.

Researchers say the product—which they've named AeroNabs—is a daily, self-administered spray that provides a specific molecule shown to be one of the most potent antivirals for COVID-19 that scientists have discovered yet, according to a new study currently available in preprint form on bioRxiv. It should be noted that the study is still in the peer-review certification process. However, AeroNabs developers are confident in the product's ability to make an impact when it comes to the effort to contain coronavirus.

"Far more effective than wearable forms of personal protective equipment, we think of AeroNabs as a molecular form of PPE that could serve as an important stopgap until vaccines provide a more permanent solution to COVID-19," AeroNabs co-inventor Peter Walter, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, said in statement released by UCSF.

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The scientists behind AeroNabs say they were inspired by nanobodies, which are proteins similar to antibodies that were discovered in llamas, camels, and other similar species in Belgium in the 1980s.

"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," AeroNabs co-inventor Aashish Manglik, MD, PhD, an assistant professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at UCSF, said in the statement. And through an extensive series of experiments, Manglik, Walter, and their colleagues fused three extremely powerful "mutated nanobodies" to create an entirely synthetic aerosol formula easy to self-administer via an inhaler or nasal spray. The results? "Off the charts," according to Walter. "It was so effective that it exceeded our ability to measure its potency."

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AeroNabs still needs to undergo additional clinical testing and human trials, but developers say they are already in talks with a number of potential commercial partners to expedite that process and get the product on shelves as an inexpensive, over-the-counter medication.

"We're not alone in thinking that AeroNabs are a remarkable technology," Manglik said in the statement from UCSF. "Our team is in ongoing discussions with potential commercial partners who are interested in manufacturing and distributing AeroNabs, and we hope to commence human trials soon. If AeroNabs prove as effective as we anticipate, they may help reshape the course of the pandemic worldwide."

AeroNabs is another example of alternative methods for containing COVID-19 some scientists are trying to push to the forefront of the national conversation on how to pivot our response to the virus. Most recently, Michael Mina, MD, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and a faculty member in the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, spoke to the press about how cheap, daily paper test strips could "change the course" of the pandemic. And for more on what might already be providing you coronavirus protection, Dr. Fauci Says This May Already Be Keeping You Safe From COVID.

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