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Inhalable Nanobodies May Prevent, Treat Severe COVID-19

Hamsters treated with the therapy did not lose any bodyweight and had reduced virus particles in their lungs.

A recent study conducted by investigators from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has discovered that inhalable nanobodies which target the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein can prevent and treat severe COVID-19in hamsters.

Results from the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

"COVID-19 is now a preeminent disease of the 21st century," Doug Reed, co-author on the study and an associate professor of immunology at the University of Pittsburgh said. "Delivering the treatment directly to the lungs can make a big difference for our ability to treat it."

For the study, the team of investigators selected an ultrapotent nanobody (Nb21) from over 8,000 high-affinity SARS-CoV-2 nanobodies that they discovered and bioengineered it into a trimeric form in order to maximize its antiviral activity. The resulting nanobody, PiN-21, is the most potent antiviral nanobody identified by investigators.

The team then delivered the therapeutic via aerosolization so that it could reach deep into the lungs of the hamsters.

Findings from the study demonstrated that the therapy protected the hamsters when it was administered at the time of infection. The placebo group lost up to 16% of their initial body weight after a week of infection, while the treatment group did not lose any.

Additional findings showed that inhalation of the aerosolized nanobodies at an ultra-low dose reduced the number of infectious virus particles in the lung tissue by a million-fold. The hamsters who received the therapy also had more mild changes seen in the structure of their lungs compared to the placebo group.

"By using an inhalation therapy that can be directly administered to the infection site--the respiratory tract and lungs--we can make treatments more efficient," Yi Shi, co-senior author on the study and an assistant professor of cell biology at the University of Pittsburgh said. "We are very excited and encouraged by our data suggesting that PiN-21 can be highly protective against severe disease and can potentially prevent human-to-human viral transmission."