Scientists Just Cured the Coronavirus With Inhalable Nanobodies

But only in hamsters, for now.
Brad Bergan
Purple vapor on the left, and the coronavirus on the right.1, 2

Imagine an alternate universe where, instead of traveling across the city or driving anxiously for miles to a vaccination center, you simply pick up a gadget with inhalable nanobodies in a vapor-like form that can cure early-stage illnesses, and even prevented them from coming back. Imagine we're talking about the coronavirus, and the vapor is a cloud of nanobody-based material. Turns out, this isn't cyberpunk exposition.

A new inhalable nanobody-based treatment could prevent and treat the COVID-19 coronavirus via ultra-low doses, according to a new study involving hamsters and published in the journal Science Advances.

While this is still in a very early, preclinical phase, this could fundamentally change the way we prevent radical viruses on a societal level.

The nanobody-based substance works regardless of its entry point into a respiratory system

The inhalable nanobody-based treatment could prevent and treat COVID-19 coronavirus infections via ultra-low doses, in a new study with Syrian hamsters. The new therapy is called the Pittsburgh inhalable Nanobody 21 (PiN-21), and might offer an affordable and needle-free alternative to the monoclonal antibodies conventionally used to treat early infections. Sham Nambulli and their colleagues developed a new method called PiN-21, which makes use of single-domain antibody fragments, which are far less costly to produce than monoclonal antibodies. And this recent study represents the first successful report of PiN-21's efficacy in living organisms.

In the study, the researchers introduced a 0.6 milligram-per-kilogram dose of PiN-21 into hamsters' naval cavities, just after they were deliberately infected with the coronavirus (via the trachea). This novel treatment stopped the infected hamsters from losing substantial weight, and destroyed the virus after 10 days, according to the study. The scientists also discovered that PiN-21 retained its ability to clear the virus from the hamster lungs upon introducing the virus via the nasal cavities, which means the treatment can work independently of which respiratory system outlet serves as the point of entry for the substance.

The nanobody-based treatment may also be aerosolized

In another experiment, the scientists placed infected hamsters inside a chamber, which contained a 0.2 milligram per kilogram dose of PiN-21 nanobodies in aerosolized form (via nebulizer), creating a whole-body exposure to the substance. The researchers found that viral lung in the hamsters' lung tissue was severely diminished after the chamber exposure, by six orders of magnitude. "We envision that PiN-21 aerosolization treatment could provide both a convenient and cost-effective solution to alleviate disease onset and reduce virus transmission, especially for mild COVID-19 patients who constitute major populations of infections," wrote the authors, according to an embargoed release shared with IE. The researchers also emphasized that additional preclinical trials, like safety tests on non-human primates, are crucial before the PiN-21 nanobody-based substance can advance to human trials.

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This is an incredible development that could lead to a massive scale-up in health experts' ability to rapidly innoculate populations from not only the initial coronavirus, but potentially several variants, possibly stopping radical mutations of the COVID-19 coronavirus before they can spread beyond a small community like a fast-action precaution to new pandemic threats. It's far too early to say any of this will happen for certain, but the benefits everyone stands to make from such a simple, and easily-disbursed weapon against the virus is too great to ignore.

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