Being able to attend a crowded concert without worrying about being infected with the coronavirus or take a long-haul flight in a packed plane. This could soon all be possible following research by the Erasmus Medical Centre in collaboration with Columbia University. Rory de Vries and his research team are testing a nasal spray that offers 24-hour protection against infection.
A simple spray that protects you from the virus that has turned the world upside down for over a year now. Sounds almost too good to be true. Rory de Vries, a virologist involved in research into this agent, is seated at his desk in the Erasmus MC research tower. Wearing a sport coat and his baseball cap back to front, he told his story enthusiastically: “At the start of the pandemic, almost all research was suspended in our department, and the only possible exception was for coronavirus research. I’m mainly involved in immunology of viruses transmitted via respiratory aerosols such as measles, but last year that changed when we were approached by a research group from New York. These researchers were working on entry inhibitors, agents that ensure that virus particles cannot enter human cells. Our experience in the field meant we were the right partner to test the agent in laboratory animals.”
The research is almost at the point that the first studies can be conducted in humans. In animals it has been demonstrated that a SARS-CoV-2 infection is blocked for at least 24 hours. “To infect a human cell, the coronavirus needs to fuse with that cell. The virus surface contains a fusion protein for this; the so-called spike protein. When this is attached to the surface of a cell, under normal circumstances the spike protein will fold down, bringing the virus and cell closer together so that these can fuse. That’s when the pathogenic particles of the virus end up in the cell and you become ill,” explained de Vries.
“You could think of it like doing up a zip. When the spike protein folds, the agent ends up in the folds. “The agent remains between the teeth of the zip as it were, so that the zip can no longer close. The virus particles can then no longer enter the cell and you can’t be infected,” stated De Vries describing the action of the nasal spray.