Oldham scientist might have found the key to a preventative COVID-19 nasal and throat spray.

Date published: 12 January 2022

A mechanical engineering and materials science professor, who was born and bred in Oldham, might have found the key to inventing a promising preventative nasal spray and early treatment throat spray for COVID-19.

David Needham has shown that a slight increase in solution pH, of a substance called niclosamide, might be all it takes to turn it into a useable spray. 

The Pharmaceutical Research journal first published the results of his tests online on December 28, 2021.

Professor Needham said: “Niclosamide turns down the dimmer switch on a cell’s energy and essentially puts the virus in lockdown. 

“This development could enable safe and effective nose and throat sprays that provide additional protection behind the mask.”

Since 1958, niclosamide has been used to treat gut parasite infections in humans, pets and farm animals. Delivered as oral tablets, the drug kills the parasites on contact by inhibiting their crucial metabolic pathway and shutting down their energy supply.

But in recent years, researchers have been testing niclosamide’s potential to treat a much wider range of diseases, such as many types of cancer, metabolic diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis.

Recent laboratory studies in cells have also shown the drug to be a potent antiviral medication, inhibiting a virus’s ability to cause disease by targeting the energy supply of the host cell that the virus co-opts for its self-replication.

The professor, changed direction from what he was working on, when the pandemic hit, to COVID-directed studies.

After a Korean paper screening existing drugs for efficacy against COVID-19 identified niclosamide as a potential target, he spent the next year researching a range of solution, nanoparticle and microparticle formulations.

                                                      Altering the pH

In the new paper, Needham demonstrates that simply raising the alkalinity of the solution might be enough to get through the mucous barrier and into the cells where a COVID-19 infection first takes hold. 

Early theories and tests might be promising, but they still need to be tested in cells actually infected with the virus, as well as in such cells protected by a mucus layer, which requires finding partner labs and agencies with the required biocontainment resources and live virus.

“Because it works on the cells rather than the virus, niclosamide could function as a respiratory viral prophylactic agent, not just against the coronavirus and all of its variants, but against any new virus as well,” Needham said.

“While vaccines are clearly effective, a nasal preventative would provide added protection.

"Even if an infection has already taken hold, this formulation could be used as an early treatment throat spray that could stop the viral load heading toward the lungs that causes the disease’s most devastating effects.”

Needham has already filed a patent application and is actively seeking industry, government and infectious disease institute partners to help pursue clinical trials and commercialisation.

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