SAN FRANCISCO—UCSF scientists may have discovered the world’s first prophylactic solution against Covid-19, which would be used in the form of a nasal spray or inhaler, as stated in a press release on Monday, August 11. The team of scientists who belong to the Walter lab at UCSF were able to engineer synthetic nanobodies that when tested, prevent the notorious Spike protein from latching onto and infecting it’s host cell, according to a paper that is now available on the preprint server bioRxiv.

The Spike protein is a key physical attribute to the molecular structure of the virus. In a lock-and-key like interaction, the spikes bind to our cell receptors, turning them into coronavirus manufacturers. The scientists at the Walter lab set their sites on this interaction and engineered antibody-like nanobodies that act as a “sheath” to the key like structure of the spike protein. Targeting the spike protein hinders the interaction that has caused the virus to spread at such an alarming rate.

An idea inspired by naturally occurring antibody-like immune proteins found in llamas and camels, the Walter lab took these nanobodies and engineered them to be an extremely potent and effective antiviral. These tiny yet powerful nanobodies have taken on the name “AeroNabs,” according to UCSF’s website.

The simple and stable molecular structure of the nanobodies will allow the nasal sprays and inhalers to be produced at an extremely efficient rate, quickly becoming a common over-the-counter pharmaceutical with a substantial shelf life. According to UCSF’s new release, their research team is already in discussion with numerous commercial partners, and both intend to make “AeroNabs” easily accessible.

“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,” said AeroNabs co-inventor, Peter Walter, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, in a news release. 

AeroNab co-inventor, Aashish Manglik, PhD, states that clinical trials can start in the next few months, opening the door to further action and distribution of this novel treatment. Of course, until then there is no certainty to how AeroNab will affect individuals, especially those with underlying conditions.