Nasal med successfully reduces COVID-19 symptoms, blocks virus in lab tests

CHICAGO, Ill. — Although millions of people have received the COVID-19 vaccine, inoculating the whole world is proving to be a slow process. While vaccinations will continue, scientists are still working on a way to defeat the coronavirus pandemic for good. A team at Rush University Medical Center say a new medication which is taken nasally has successfully prevented the symptoms of COVID-19 in lab experiments.

In a study on mice, researchers introduced a peptide into the noses of the animals. This chain of amino acids proved effective at reducing several COVID symptoms. The drug reduced fever, protected the lungs from damage, improved heart function, and even reversed the “cytokine storm” — the immune system’s overreaction to infection which causes harmful inflammation.

Blocking the virus’ path into cells

SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, grabs on to an enzyme called ACE2 on the surface of cells. From there, the particles break into a cell and force it to replicate more of the virus.

To fight this process, researchers created hexapeptides (peptides with six amino acids) which block SARS-CoV-2 from binding with ACE2.

“This could be a new approach to prevent SARS-CoV-2 infection and protect COVID-19 patients from breathing problems and cardiac issues,” says study leader Kalipada Pahan, PhD in a university release.

For many patients in intensive care due to coronavirus, the cytokine storm is the major issue because of its impact on the lungs, heart, and other organs. While anti-inflammatories like steroids treat the problem, they also suppress the immune system. The new treatment however, works in a different way.

“The peptide inhibits cytokines that only are produced by the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, not other inflammatory stimuli, indicating that this peptide would not cause immunosuppression,” Pahan explains.

Giving COVID patients another option

Study authors say the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine is no guarantee it will provide global protection. They note that nearly 50,000 people die each year from the flu in the United States despite the widespread use of flu shots.

If the results in mice translate over the human patients, doctors will have another weapon to use to curb the virus’s spread.

“If our peptide results can be replicated in COVID-19 patients, it would be a remarkable advance in controlling this devastating pandemic,” Pahan concludes.

The study appears in the Journal of Neuroimmune Pharmacology.