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SK advances Gates-backed COVID-19 antiviral spray toward clinic

SK bioscience is stepping up work on a nasal spray to prevent and treat COVID-19. With the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation kicking in cash, the Korean biotech is preparing for initial process R&D for the production of the antiviral nasal spray.

The spray is designed to deliver a protein to the nasal passages. Upon delivery, the protein forms a layer to stop the virus from penetrating deeper into the body. SK thinks the spray may also disrupt the ability of the virus to replicate, giving it a potential role in the treatment of people already infected with the pathogen.

SK has transferred technology for the protein candidate from the University of Washington, where David Baker and his collaborators got the project underway in 2020 by identifying miniprotein inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2. Lauren Carter, a lead scientist at the university’s Institute for Protein Design, is continuing to work with SK on the project.

The Gates Foundation is funding the project via IAVI. Having received a Gates Foundation grant for work on an antiviral nasal spray, IAVI subcontracted work to SK, committing $2.2 million to cover early preclinical development costs.

With effective COVID-19 vaccines now widely available, it is questionable whether there is a significant market for the nasal spray in the management of the current pandemic. However, SK sees a role for the spray as a first line of defense before vaccines or therapeutics are developed in response to a new virus.

“If we secure differentiated antiviral prevention and treatment from this research, it could be possible to quickly respond to continuously evolving respiratory viruses. Our efforts to develop new medicines to prevent and treat life threatening infectious viruses are leading to various international cooperation,” SK CEO Jae-yong Ahn said in a statement.