Images of synagogues packed with worshipers during the Jewish holidays last month caused health professionals and public officials to warn about the catastrophic results that mass events could have for coronavirus infections. For an Israeli pharmaceutical company, these close contact meetings provided an opportunity to test their treatment to avoid contagion with coronavirus.
While the route to producing a coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine is not yet clear, Israel-based Nasus Pharma is working on a nasal spray device to stop the spread of the disease. Currently, the company is still testing the treatment, most recently on a group of worshipers in the central city of Bnei Brak, during the Rosh Hashanah holiday last month.
Taffix is a powder-based nasal spray (PBI) that is administered into the nose and blocks the entry of viruses into the nasal passages, preventing infection. However, it is not a cure, but simply a precaution offered to those who live in close-knit communities with high infection rates, or to people at risk, such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions such as diabetes or chronic lung diseases such as asthma. .
“We know that most diseases affect people by entering the nostrils,” said Dr. Dalia Megiddo, executive director of Nasus Pharma, during an interview with CTech. He explained that after the Covid-19 outbreak last year, Chinese doctors began taking blood, nasal passages and mucosa samples from patients, and found that the highest concentration of the virus was found in the nasal passages. Scientific journals published research-based articles detailing that the easiest way for the virus to enter and connect to cell receptors was in the nose, where they have the highest concentration.
For the past three years, Nasus Pharma has focused on treating flare-ups during emergency situations that require a rapid response, such as in the case of patients suffering from anaphylactic shock or opioid overdose, by developing other delivery devices. Nasal sprays that are released into the body as soon as possible. With the coronavirus outbreak, Megiddo said the company began looking for new ways to protect those fragile cells from the invading virus and created Taffix.
“This is a medical device but it is not a medicine,” he reiterated, “because it does not contain any active ingredients. “The mechanism of action is not specific to the treatment of covid,” he said, and can also be used to limit the spread of influenza. “Taffix is a powder that when inhaled covers the nasal passages to create a protective layer around the cells so that the virus cannot reach the receptor cells in the nose.”
Taffix should be used every five hours, especially before one comes across a populated area, such as a supermarket or park.
The spray has two mechanisms, he explained. While the first is mechanical: the powder that is sprayed acquires a gel-like consistency that covers the nasal passages by absorbing the water from the nose. This microgel lines the nasal passages and acts as a protective barrier against incoming viruses. Also, he noted that the gel is acidic and viruses cannot survive in an acidic environment.
“It is an extra precaution, but it does not replace masks or any recommendation from the Ministry of Health. Even with all the precautionary measures we are taking now, we are not 100% protected, “he said.
The group began with a laboratory study, where they simulated what happens in the nose, first spraying the powder in an enclosed area and then spraying various types of viruses on them. “Our results consistently showed that the virus cannot penetrate the gel, leading to a degree of disinfection of between 97% and 99%.” The doctor noted that this simply provides an extra layer of protection in the most vulnerable part of the human body.
As most people are concerned about the virus outbreak in Israel, certain communities are at much higher risk, he explained. “Bnei Brak has 27,000 people for every 12 kilometers, which is a very high density rate: twice the rate in Gaza and three times the rate in Tel Aviv.” Even if people take extra precautions, they can still get infected because the virus is present.
Bnei Brak has consistently topped the list of cities in Israel with high rates of Covid-19 infection and mortality.
Before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Nasus Pharma offered to test their device in a community with a very high concentration of virus carriers. In the study, the synagogue was divided into capsules and parishioners sat behind plastic dividers and wore masks. A population of 243 people was present, where one third took the medications as administered, while two thirds did not. After a period of two weeks, in which that same third continued taking the drug (about 83 people), only two became infected. The two infected people did not take the spray three times a day, as recommended. However, of the 160 non-users, the infection rate was 16 people (10%), and that was significant.
“This is not a clinical study but a survey of users,” he reiterated and noted that Taffix has been approved in Europe, the Dominican Republic and Israel. “We are currently developing additional clinical information. This is a user survey and it brings us critical information, but it is not the end of development, ”he explained.
“We continue to observe other populations as well. There are a number of other circumstances with which this spray can be administered and people can be protected, ”he added. The company hopes to test this drug in future instances, specifically during an outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome).