Nasal Spray Being Tested as Potential Coronavirus Treatment

Researchers in Utah are studying the effectiveness of antihistamine-treated nasal spray on cell cultures infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19. Preliminary results from the new in vitro study indicated that chlorpheniramine maleate—an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug typically used to relieve allergy, cold or flu symptoms, like runny nose, sneezing, itchy and watery eyes—could reduce the presence of infection when combined with a nasal spray solution. Previous research has suggested chlorpheniramine maleate (CPM) acts as an antiviral treatment against various influenza strains as well.

With CPM's antiviral properties in mind, representatives from a Utah-based pharmaceutical company partnered with Utah State University's Institute of Antiviral Research and pulmonologist Dr. Gustavo Ferrer to evaluate its effects on the new coronavirus. The antihistamine was combined with a nasal spray solution currently being developed as an anti-allergy remedy and introduced to infected cell samples. After 25 minutes of contact, data showed reduced measurements of the virus in cell samples to a degree researchers deemed statistically significant.

Due to the coronavirus' concentrated presence in nasal tissue, administering medication through nasal spray could be useful to provide maximum exposure. However, further testing is necessary to accurately gauge the method's efficacy in treating coronavirus patients. CPM has been approved for oral use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with drowsiness being its primary side effect.

Authors of the in vitro study proposed two subsequent tests: "a randomized placebo-controlled study of intranasally delivered chlorpheniramine in patients with mild to moderate SARS-CoV-2" and an additional study to determine potential effects of CPM when used in conjunction with hydroxychloroquine, a medication historically used to treat malaria as well as autoimmune diseases, in patients hospitalized due to coronavirus. Hydroxychloroquine is a derivative of chloroquine, another immunosuppressant and anti-parasite drug that has been used to treat malaria, sometimes when combined with CPM.

Hydroxycholoroquine's effectiveness as a coronavirus treatment method has been scrutinized, and it is not currently approved for widespread use as a medication to alleviate symptoms of the disease. The FDA recently issued guidelines for the drug's emergency use, which allow physicians to administer hydroxychloroquine to certain coronavirus patients who are hospitalized with severe or life-threatening symptoms. Clinical trials are underway to investigate its suitability for widespread use to combat coronavirus.

Plaquenil, Belgium
A pharmacist in Belgium holds a box of hydroxychloroquine tablets, packaged under the brand name Plaquenil, in early April. The medication's effectiveness as a coronavirus treatment method has been widely debated. The FDA recently issued guidelines for the drug's emergency use. BENOIT DOPPAGNE/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images

"There are no drugs or other therapeutics approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to prevent or treat COVID-19," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement released April 13. "Current clinical management includes infection prevention and control measures and supportive care, including supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilatory support when indicated."

The U.S. is the new coronavirus pandemic's global epicenter, with close to 800,000 cases and more than 42,000 deaths confirmed as of Tuesday morning, according to Johns Hopkins University's tracker. At least 2.5 million people have tested positive for the virus worldwide, and more than 171,800 have died.