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Chula Researchers Discover “Highly Effective Antibodies against COVID-19,” Leading to “COVITRAP Nasal Spray” to Curb Infection at the Start

Chula Researchers Discover “Highly Effective Antibodies against COVID-19,” Leading to “COVITRAP Nasal Spray” to Curb Infection at the Start

BANGKOK, May 24, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — A research team at the Center of Excellence in Systems Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, has identified “highly effective antibodies against COVID-19” from the human body. These antibodies have been developed into an innovation called “COVITRAP,” the world’s first nasal spray that traps and inhibits the COVID-19 virus using antibodies. This spray has been certified as a medical device, and the team is confident in its efficacy for dealing with COVID-19 alongside other preventive measures.

Although preventive measures for COVID-19 have been relaxed to the point that mask-wearing is not required in some public places, it does not mean that COVID-19 has been entirely eliminated. The virus continues to spread and infect people, making it necessary to remain vigilant and cautious regarding infection prevention, healthcare, vaccination, and mask-wearing.

But how beneficial would it be if we had help stopping COVID-19 at the nostrils before the virus enters the respiratory system?

Dr. Trairak Pisitkun, Director of the Center of Excellence in Systems Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, spoke about the beginning of the research and the discovery of highly effective antibodies against COVID19.” This discovery later led to the development of a nasal spray that traps and inhibits COVID-19 using antibodies. “During the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in April 2020, we were concerned about whether we could handle the outbreak, with all the patients who encountered severe symptoms and even deaths. At that time, the center’s research team was concentrating on developing a drug for cancer, so we thought that our knowledge and capabilities of developing antibody-based drugs could be used to help cope with the pandemic.”

With the cooperation of five parties from both public and private sectors, namely the Faculty of Medicine at Chulalongkorn University, Silpakorn University, Public Health Systems Research Institute (HSRI), Government Pharmaceutical Organization, and Hibiocy Co., Ltd., the research team from the Faculty of Medicine, Chulalongkorn University, was able to develop the knowledge from discovering the highly effective antibody against COVID19 further into COVITRAP a nasal spray that traps and inhibits the COVID19 virus.” This innovation is considered the first in the world that uses antibodies to create a nasal spray. The product has been certified by the FDA as a class-4 medical device to trap and inhibit the COVID-19 virus in the nasal cavity.

Highly Effective Antibody against COVID19

Dr. Trairak discussed the research and discovery of the “highly effective antibody against COVID-19.” The research team collected blood samples from over 300 patients who had recovered from COVID-19 to find B cells that are most effective at producing antibodies that can fight the COVID-19 virus.

“From millions of B cells, we used the process of High-Throughput Screening to discover the B cells that can produce antibodies that can effectively neutralize COVID-19. The genetic code for the immunoglobulin gene of these B cells was then sequenced before entering the industrial production process to obtain large quantities of the antibody.”

Dr. Trairak explained that when these antibodies enter different parts of the body, they can help trap and stop COVID-19 in those areas.

“Once injected into the body, antibodies will protect various parts of the body, such as the bloodstream, lungs, intestines, and mucous membranes. As for the method of nasal spray, antibodies will coat the mucous surface of the nasal cavity, preventing the virus from binding to the nasal epithelial cells and causing an infection in the body.”

How Does COVITRAP Differ from a Vaccine?

Even though COVITRAP contains COVID-resisting antibodies, it cannot replace a vaccine.

“Although antibodies and vaccines can both work against COVID-19, they have different properties and functions, and therefore cannot be substituted for each other,” Dr. Trairak explained.

“The vaccine works by stimulating the body to produce antibodies and white blood cells to eliminate pathogens that may enter our body, which takes some time for immunity to develop after vaccination. Once immunity is achieved, it can remain with the body for a long time; however, such stimulation of the immune system may cause immunologic reactions in some people. In contrast, the antibodies in COVITRAP can be compared to a ‘ready-made immunity.’ Once it is sprayed into the nasal cavity, it will be able to resist the COVID-19 virus in that area immediately. The antibodies do not enter the body and no stimulation is made to the body, causing a lower chance of immunologic reactions than vaccination. The disadvantage of COVITRAP is that it does not last long (about 6 hours). Since the body is not stimulated to produce antibodies like vaccines, the ready-made antibodies that enter the nasal cavity through COVITRAP are rapidly cleared via the mucociliary clearance process. In contrast, the effects of immune activation from a vaccine last much longer.”

COVITRAP: Easy, Safe, and Effective against COVID19

Why do we need a nasal spray when we have already been vaccinated and are wearing a mask?

“COVITRAP and face masks complement each other. Used together, they are more effective in dealing with COVID-19 than using one at a time or nothing at all,” Dr. Trairak explained, using the COVID-19 nasal spray as an example.

“If we are in a crowded area and we remove the mask, our defenses are gone. Using COVITRAP will help protect us from the virus. COVITRAP is ideal for people in situations with a risk of infection, such as in crowded areas, enclosed spaces, or in situations where they need to remove their mask amidst large numbers of people.”

COVITRAP, like a surgical mask, is a medical device that is easy and, most importantly, safe to use. This innovation has been tested for safety among volunteers aged 18-60 years.

“COVITRAP is a safe nasal spray containing highly effective antibodies retrieved from recovered COVID-19 patients. The antibodies are not sprayed to stimulate the body’s immune system and do not enter the body’s systems. The antibodies only coat the surface of the nasal cavity where they can trap and inhibit the COVID-19 virus for about 6 hours before it is naturally expelled.

Nevertheless, Dr. Trairak recommends using “COVITRAP” only as needed. If any irregularities occur, you should stop using it immediately. The spray should only be used in children old enough to communicate so that they can express any unusual reactions.

Further Research on New Respiratory Pathogens Inhibiting Antibodies

Dr. Trairak said that COVITRAP is a highly flexible innovation. In addition to developing high-performance antibodies against COVID-19 into a nasal spray, antibodies against other respiratory viruses can also be further studied to create nasal sprays to combat other respiratory infections.

“In the future, if the COVID-19 virus mutates, or other diseases related to respiratory infections, such as influenza or RSV, break out, the research team can develop antibodies that can trap and inhibit these new pathogens.”

Furthermore, Dr. Trairak also discussed the idea of adapting antibodies to be used in sprays for animals. As such, the spraying method must be adjusted to suit the animals. “Because it is known that animals are also one of the causes of the spread of diseases.”

Dr. Trairak concluded, “We will have to live with COVID-19 for the rest of our lives, as it will not be going away. The future may bring other viruses, which will require long-term solutions.”

COVITRAP has been tested to the Thai FDA standards and already registered as a medical device. It is currently available at pharmacies.

The research on the nasal spray that traps and inhibits COVID-19 with antibodies can be accessed on  https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.10.04.22280574v1

For the full release and more images, please visit: https://www.chula.ac.th/en/highlight/117078/ 

About Chulalongkorn University

Chulalongkorn University sets the standard as a university of innovations for society and is listed in the World’s Top 100 Universities for Academic Reputation, in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2021-2022.