BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) — A lab at UC Berkeley has created a nasal spray that can prevent and treat COVID-19, according to a press release from UC Berkeley.
So far the spray has been found effective against COVID-19 in mice. The spray can be used as a preventative measure to avoid contracting the virus at all, or it can be used as a COVID-19 treatment to prevent serious illness. Andres Näär, who founded the lab where the spray was developed, says it can also work in conjunction with other COVID treatments found to be effective, including vaccinations and Paxlovid.
The Näär Lab was founded by Näär when he came to UC Berkeley after spending 17 years researching at Harvard. The lab focuses on how genes are switched on and off. Näär and a team of 8 scientists study RNA, “which is kind of the intermediary between the DNA and the workhouses of the cell called proteins,” Näär said.
RNA is taken from the nucleus to other parts of the cell where the proteins are made. Sometimes these proteins can go awry and contribute to disease, which is why they were being studied. However, these proteins are also the focus of the COVID-fighting nasal spray,
“The proteins stick to specific regions of the virus and it prevents the virus from making copies of itself,” Näär told KRON4.
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When the delta, omicron, and BA.5 COVID variants emerged, worries arose that vaccines couldn’t be as effective against later variants. This is not the case with the nasal spray, according to Näär . The part of the virus that this treatment is targeting is present in every mutation.
“We think this could be a game changer. It targets all of the variants equally well,” Näär said.
One advantage that the nasal spray has over vaccinations is how stable the formula is.
“It can be stored at room temperature for weeks or months, and can be frozen indefinitely,” Näär said. This stability means the nasal spray could have a more seamless distribution process both here in the U.S. and also globally.
Näär says that he also believes people who are vaccine hesitant might be more receptive to a nasal spray or inhaler. So what’s the next step for the drug? Further testing on animals and humans for safety and efficacy and hopefully a partnership, “What we’re really looking for right now is funding,” Näär told KRON4.
UC Berkeley has patented the nasal spray, and is licensing it through CalGen Therapeutics, a biotech company Näär founded.