Experimental Coronavirus Drug Neumifil Shows Promise in Lab, Scientists Hope to 'Rapidly' Start Clinical Trials

An antiviral drug which scientists hope could one day be used to prevent and treat COVID-19 has shown promise in lab tests. Its creators envision the medicine taking the form of a nasal spray, and hope to "rapidly" start clinical trials.

The drug works by masking specific receptors in the airways to stop the virus from entering cells. The team in Scotland found sugar-binding proteins known as Carbohydrate Binding Modules (mCBMs), including one which they have dubbed Neumifil, prevented cells in a lab from being infected with SARS-CoV-2—the virus which causes COVID-19.

There are currently no specific drugs or vaccines for COVID-19, and the team are among scientists racing to find ways to tackle the disease. According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 3 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with COVID-19, almost 981,000 have survived, and 227,705 have died. The U.S. is the country with the most known cases, as shown in the graph by Statista below.

This infographic shows the countries with the most COVID-19 cases. Statista

The drug was created by Pneumagen, a spinout company of Scotland's University of St. Andrews. SARS-CoV-2 is a member of the large coronavirus family of viruses that cause diseases such as SARS, MERS, and some common colds.

Pneumagen's COVID-19 research builds on previous work investigating whether Neumifil can be used to to treat patients with other respiratory tract infections, such as the flu and a form of the common cold called Respiratory Syncytial Virus.

Garry Taylor, professor of biology at St Andrews who led the research, told MailOnline that while traditional antivirals attack the virus, this drug stops the bug from getting into cells.

Taylor explained that the drug works by stopping the virus' spike protein from accessing the receptor it uses to enter the body, called ACE2.

"Our drug binds to sugar molecules which are on the surface of all cells in the respiratory tract," he said. "These same types of carbs are on the surfaces of virus' spike proteins, which it uses to enter cells"

Taylor went on: "We envision it being given as a nasal spray, and imagine it being given weekly or every other day."

Douglas Thomson, CEO of Pneumagen, said in a statement: "Today's positive results from in vitro studies of our mCBMs against coronaviruses show that glycan binding has the potential to prevent and treat infection." Glycans are polymers made by all living organisms.

"This further supports the value of our universal therapeutic modality to block access to lung cells of SARS-CoV-2, as well as other viruses, that cause respiratory tract infections, providing the potential for a pan-viral respiratory product. Our goal is now to rapidly begin clinical testing for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19."

The results come as scientists and health officials try to balance quickly rolling out new drugs to combat the COVID-19 pandemic while ensuring they are safe and effective. On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told a White House press briefing that experimental anti-viral remdesivir has been shown to "block this virus" in a U.S.-government-run study.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Advice on Using Face Coverings to Slow Spread of COVID-19

  • CDC recommends wearing a cloth face covering in public where social distancing measures are difficult to maintain.
  • A simple cloth face covering can help slow the spread of the virus by those infected and by those who do not exhibit symptoms.
  • Cloth face coverings can be fashioned from household items. Guides are offered by the CDC. (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/diy-cloth-face-coverings.html)
  • Cloth face coverings should be washed regularly. A washing machine will suffice.
  • Practice safe removal of face coverings by not touching eyes, nose, and mouth, and wash hands immediately after removing the covering.

World Health Organization advice for avoiding spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19)

Hygiene advice

  • Clean hands frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Wash hands after coughing or sneezing; when caring for the sick; before, during and after food preparation; before eating; after using the toilet; when hands are visibly dirty; and after handling animals or waste.
  • Maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance from anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your hands, nose and mouth. Do not spit in public.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or bent elbow when coughing or sneezing. Discard the tissue immediately and clean your hands.

Medical advice

  • Avoid close contact with others if you have any symptoms.
  • Stay at home if you feel unwell, even with mild symptoms such as headache and runny nose, to avoid potential spread of the disease to medical facilities and other people.
  • If you develop serious symptoms (fever, cough, difficulty breathing) seek medical care early and contact local health authorities in advance.
  • Note any recent contact with others and travel details to provide to authorities who can trace and prevent spread of the disease.
  • Stay up to date on COVID-19 developments issued by health authorities and follow their guidance.

Mask and glove usage

  • Healthy individuals only need to wear a mask if taking care of a sick person.
  • Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
  • Masks are effective when used in combination with frequent hand cleaning.
  • Do not touch the mask while wearing it. Clean hands if you touch the mask.
  • Learn how to properly put on, remove and dispose of masks. Clean hands after disposing of the mask.
  • Do not reuse single-use masks.
  • Regularly washing bare hands is more effective against catching COVID-19 than wearing rubber gloves.
  • The COVID-19 virus can still be picked up on rubber gloves and transmitted by touching your face.