Antibody-laden nasal spray could provide COVID protection — and treatment

Scientists create a hybrid antibody that can sharply cut the amount of SARS-CoV-2 in the lungs of infected mice.

Antibody-laden nasal spray could provide COVID protection — and treatment
Illustration of dozens of Y-shaped antibodies converging on a spherical virus.

Antibodies swarm a SARS-CoV-2 particle (artist’s impression). A bioengineered antibody can block the virus from taking hold in the lungs of mice.Credit: KTSDesign/Science Photo Library

A nasal spritz of a designer antibody offers strong protection against variants of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 — at least in mice1.

Since the early days of the pandemic, scientists have been developing antibodies as treatments for COVID-19. Today, several such antibodies are in late-stage clinical trials, and a handful have been approved for emergency use by regulatory agencies in the United States and elsewhere.

Among doctors, however, antibody treatments have not been very popular, says Zhiqiang An, an antibody engineer at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. That’s partly because those available are delivered through intravenous infusions rather than directly to the respiratory tract, where the virus is mainly found — so it takes high doses for them to be effective. Another challenge is the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants that seem to be resistant to some existing antibodies.

An and his colleagues set out to engineer an antibody that could be delivered directly into the nose. They scanned a library of antibodies from healthy humans and zeroed in on those that were able to recognize a component of SARS-CoV-2 that the virus uses to latch on to and enter cells2. Among the promising candidates were IgG antibodies, which are relatively slow to appear after an infection but are precisely tailored to the invading pathogen.

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