A new study from Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons found ferrets given a nasal spray were blocked from being infected by ferrets sick with COVID-19 (file image)
A nasal spray that blocked transmission of the novel coronavirus in ferrets may help prevent humans exposed to the pathogen from becoming sick. Researchers found that a lipopeptide, a type of compound, prevented the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, from entering and infecting cells. After being given the spray, no ferrets were infected by sick animals while those that were given a placebo fell ill and had high viral loads.
The team, from the Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, says the spray is fast and inexpensive to manufacture and could provide immunity for people who are unable to be vaccinated. Ferrets are often used as animals in studies of respiratory diseases because their lungs resemble those of humans.
In addition, ferrets are highly susceptible to being infected with coronavirus and spreading it to other ferrets as occurs with people. The lipopeptides – small proteins joined to a cholesterol or tocopherol molecule – used in this study were developed by Drs Anne Moscona and Matteo Porotto, professors in the Department of Pediatrics.
They have been used to prevent infection from measles and the Nipah virus, which is a bat-borne disease. ‘One lesson we want to stress is the importance of applying basic science to develop treatments for viruses that affect human populations globally,’ Moscona and Porotto said in a joint statement.
‘The fruits of our earlier research led to our rapid application of the methods to COVID-19.’ To fuse to a host cell’s membrane, the coronavirus unfolds its spike protein and then compacts into a bundle to complete the process. The compound recognizes the spike protein and squeezes itself into the unfolded section so it cannot turn into the compact shape needed to infect cells. For the study, published as a pre-print in bioRxiv.org, the researchers sprayed the compound into the noses of six ferrets and put in three separate cages in groups of two.
Each pair was also placed with two ferrets that were given a placebo and one recently infected with the coronavirus. After 24 hours, results showed none of the treated ferrets caught the virus from the infected animal and their viral load was at zero. However, all of the control ferrets did test positive for the virus and had very high viral loads. Moscona and Porotto say their antiviral is cheap and fast to make, does not require refrigeration and has a long shelf like.
This can allow it to be used in many situations includes household, schools and health care facilities. They add that the spray will be especially beneficial for portions of the population that can’t be vaccinates such as the very young and very old.
‘Even in an ideal scenario with large segments of the population vaccinated – and with full trust in and compliance with vaccination procedures – these antivirals will form an important complement to protect individuals and control transmission,’ Moscona and Porotto said.