(NewsNation) — Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley are developing a nasal spray that can prevent and treat COVID-19, with early data showing it could be a game changer in the fight against the virus.
While the vaccines developed have largely targeted the spike protein on the outside of the virus, the nasal spray focuses on the heart of the virus instead. Data from the first sets of tests show the spray appears to work against all current variants and future variants.
Professor Anders Naar, one of the lead researchers, explained that’s because the spray targets the virus’ RNA in an attempt to block the virus from duplicating in human cells.
“The virus is basically like a trojan horse,” Naar told WFXR’s sister station, NewsNation, on Sunday. “It injects RNA into a cell … and turns into its personal copy machine.”
The science behind the nasal spray works to incapacitate that copy machine.
The hope, Naar said, is that a nasal spray can make major headway in COVID-19 prevention efforts because it is easy to manufacture, ship and store. Unlike vaccines that have to be stored at cold temperatures, a nasal spray would be able to survive at room temperature.
“You can basically get this to people where there is no refrigeration or freezing capacity,” Naar said.
It might also appeal to the vaccine-hesitant population because of its easy application.
Tests have been conducted on mice and hamsters, and no adverse effects have been identified, Naar said. The next phase of research is animal trials and then human trials.
“We’re probably a year or two away from actually having this deployed if everything goes well,” Naar said.
The most ambitious timeline would be deployment by fall 2023. In order to achieve that, Naar said they need funding and “we need some muscle behind it, if you will, some people putting their shoulder to the effort, like big pharma or big biotech … the [Food and Drug Administration] has to be on-board, ideally the U.S. government.”
Testing has also shown that the spray can also reduce symptoms for those already infected with the coronavirus. For Naar and his fellow researchers, they say it could be a game changer “if everything pans out the way we envision.”
One doctor following the developments is Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.
“On paper, it seems great. I’m very excited about it moving onto the next level,” Chin-Hong said. “I’m very hopeful about it, in terms of it not being spike-protein dependent, portable and easy-to-scale globally and being easy to administer. Not having human studies yet gives me some pause, but if I were an investor, I’d want to invest in it. It checks all the boxes, except how it performs in humans, that remains to be seen.”