BANGKOK: Thai scientists are developing an anti-viral nasal spray that could stop COVID-19 infections by neutralising the coronavirus when it enters the nose.
The spray is currently in the research and development phase.
It is a joint development by public and private sectors, including the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, which discovered the antibody used in the prototype.
“We conducted research and discovered antibodies, which are the immunity created by the human body to stop COVID-19,” said Assistant Professor Dr Nakarin Sirisabya from the Faculty of Medicine.
One of the antibodies was selected and designed to work outside the body in an area it is applied, he added, unlike COVID-19 vaccines which have to develop immunity to the coronavirus from inside the body.
The antibody-based spray stops the virus from infecting the body through the nose, which scientists believe is the main entrance for COVID-19 to the respiratory system.
“So, we thought by using this antibody-based spray in the nose, the antibody will trap COVID-19 and prevent it from entering the body,” Dr Sirisabya explained.
Besides Chulalongkorn University, the partnership also includes the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, the Health Systems Research Institute, Silpakorn University and private firm Hibiocy Co Ltd.
The spray is expected to be soon tested on volunteers at the National Cancer Institute.
Once clinal trials are completed, it will be registered with Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration, whose approval is needed to kick-start the manufacturing process.
According to the Government Pharmaceutical Organization, which will be responsible for the production, the anti-COVID-19 nasal spray is expected to go on sale in the third quarter of this year.
HOW THE NASAL SPRAY WORKS
The anti-viral nasal spray is designed to work with other COVID-19 prevention measures such as vaccination, social distancing and the use of facial masks.
“Right now, the immunity level from the vaccine might have dropped already and when it comes to mask wearing, people have increasingly begun to dine together and do more activities together. So, we realised there is a gap here, where the spray can go in and help,” Dr Sirisabya said.
Unlike the COVID-19 vaccine, he added, the antigen-based spray does not get absorbed into the body or stay effective for a long time on the surface.
The substance will latch on the coronavirus that enters the nose and neutralise or weaken it, making it unable to cause infection inside the body.
Details about the dosage are not yet available but according to Dr Sirisabya, it could be applied when there are risks of infection such as during a social gathering where masks are removed.
“The overall result is the reduced viral load, which will lower the chances of infection,” he said.
AN ADDITIONAL PREVENTIVE MEASURE
On Thursday (Jun 23), the Thai government lifted its mask mandate with immediate effect as the COVID-19 situation in the country improved.
"The wearing of hygienic or cloth masks shall be voluntary," read the announcement published in the Royal Gazette.
Nevertheless, the Ministry of Public Health still advised people to wear masks at crowded places, where social distancing is not possible or the ventilation is not good.
As the country relaxed its COVID-19 measures, the anti-viral nasal spray could play a key role in keeping the virus at bay.
Preliminary lab tests showed the spray reacted well to various COVID-19 variants, including Delta and Omicron, but its effectiveness can only be officially concluded after the clinical trials.
According to Dr Sirisabya, the developing partners share a similar objective to make the nasal spray affordable and accessible to people in Thailand, especially the vulnerable groups.
Still, he maintained that all the COVID-19 prevention measures are equally important and that the anti-viral nasal spray is only “an additional prevention measure" that would help people in Thailand stay safe.
“Based on the data we have, such nasal spray is not yet available in Asia. Definitely, we believe we’ll be ready in terms of the production capacity,” Dr Sirisabya said, adding that the product will initially be produced for domestic consumption but developers are aware of the opportunity in the global market.