Scientists ‘amazed’ after trial of artificial solution stopped virus replicating in 96% of infected ferrets


  • Treatment was administered to ferrets who were then exposed to coronavirus
  • Spray was initially developed to help protect against the common cold and flu
  • Human trials on the spray could be launched within the next four months 

Weekly squirts of a nasal spray could provide protection against Covid-19, research has suggested. 

Ferrets received two doses of a solution — which contains an artificial molecule designed to boost the immune system  — a day before they were exposed to the coronavirus.

Results reveal it slashed the virus’ replication in their noses and throats by 96 per cent, reducing the risk of infection and cutting the odds of transmission. 

The artificial compound — named INNA-051 — is set to enter human trials within the next four months.

It was first developed to help protect against the common cold and flu, but is yet to be rubber-stamped because it has not been convincingly proven to work. 

Previous research showed it ‘accelerated’ anti-viral responses in throat cells from healthy volunteers and those suffering from asthma, and provided ‘prolonged protection’ to mice from rhinoviruses, which cause runny noses in humans.

If approved, the treatment could offer added defences to those at elevated risk from Covid-19 including the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.

A paper detailing the trial on INNA-051 has been published on the research website bioRxiv, although it is yet to be peer reviewed.

The spray has been developed by Australian company Ena Respiratory, which first started work on the avant-garde treatment before the pandemic struck.

It contains molecules designed to trigger TLR2 and TLR6 receptors on mucosal epithelial cells lining the throat and nose, attracting hordes of white blood cells to the area and boosting immunity. 

The trial of the spray on the ferrets was led by Professor Miles Carroll, deputy director and head of research at Porton Down of Public Health England.

Dr Christophe Demaison, managing director of Melbourne-based Ena Respiratory said: ‘We’ve been amazed with just how effective our treatment has been.

‘By boosting the natural immune response of the ferrets with our treatment, we’ve seen a rapid eradication of the virus.’

He added: ‘If humans respond in a similar way, the benefits of treatment are two-fold.

‘Individuals exposed to the virus would most likely rapidly eliminate it, with the treatment ensuring that the disease does not progress beyond mild symptoms.

‘This is particularly relevant to vulnerable members of the community.

‘In addition, the rapidity of this response means that the infected individuals are unlikely to pass it on, meaning a swift halt to community transmission.’

The firm said if human trials prove successful and funding is secured, the therapy could be rapidly manufactured at scale.

Professor Roberto Solari a respiratory specialist adviser to Ena Respiratory and visiting professor at Imperial College London, said: ‘This is a significant development as the world races to find a solution to halt Covid-19 transmission and infection of at-risk populations.

‘Most exciting is the ability of INNA-051 to significantly reduce virus levels in the nose and throat, giving hope that this therapy could reduce Covid-19 transmission by infected people, especially those who may be pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic and thus unaware they are infectious.’

The company has previously secured as much as £6.4million ($8.25m) in funding, and is appealing for further financial support in the trials.

The treatment has been designed to bolster protection against all respiratory diseases, as opposed to only the coronavirus.

The trial was carried out on 24 female ferrets that received different doses of the spray, and were sedated during its administration.

It is a challenge trial, which means the animals are exposed to the ineffective agent after being treated with possibly protective medication to see whether it will work. 

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