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NM Tech, Parnell developing anti-COVID spray

There’s an old saying that one thing can lead to another.

Two scientists at New Mexico Tech are finding that it’s more than just a common expression.

Stemming from research by biomedical post-doc Danielle Turner and biology professor Snezna Rogelj, the university has entered a new licensing agreement with Parnell Pharmaceuticals to develop an antiviral treatment to be used as a topical nasal spray as prophylaxis against COVID-19.

Biologists Danielle Turner, left, and Snezna Rogelj in the lab at New Mexico Tech where they developed the antimicrobial material to be used in NomovidTM Nasal Spray. (Courtesy of New Mexico Tech)

According to an announcement last week by Parnell, NomovidTM Nasal Spray – once it is approved by the FDA – will be easy-to-use, low-cost and quickly made available over-the-counter for consumers.

Nomovid is based on a substance licensed by Parnell from New Mexico Tech to treat drug-resistant bacteria and fungi such as MRSA and Candida auris.

The material attacks lipids in cell and viral envelopes, and has been tested against the novel coronavirus by an independent laboratory.

The new material was developed in the Biology Department at New Mexico Tech by Rogelj and Turner. They’ve been working on this product since 2017.

“We initially aimed at developing a topical treatment for microbial infections,” Turner said. “And from that work came this material that kills human pathogens upon contact. Bacteria, fungus, and now the SARS-CoV-2 virus, all in the lab. The nasal spray, to be a prophylactic, has been found in an independent certified laboratory to kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus 99.9%.”

That’s the virus that causes COVID-19.

“In a laboratory setting, it’s found to kill 99.9% of COVID,” Turner said. “We’re hoping it will make it harder for the virus to colonize the nose because that’s where the virus enters,” Turner said. “It’s very promising. We’re excited.”

The novel antimicrobial material has a patent pending. Rogelj said the product kills all tested human pathogens, including the deadliest among the drug-resistant bacteria and fungi.

“All along we were thinking of delivery of this general antimicrobial treatment and preventative by a spray,” Rogelj said. “And we designed it with an understanding of how it works against bacteria and fungi.

“As it turns out, that translates in working against viruses, as well. There are many, many different kinds of viruses, and some perhaps even more deadly than COVID.”

Rogelj said the material’s basic mechanism of killing action “predictably translated to being anti-SARS-CoV-2.”

New Mexico Tech entered the licensing agreement with Parnell about a year ago, well before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rogelj and Turner realized during the early stages of the outbreak that their product would also be effective against the novel coronavirus and encouraged Parnell to pursue further testing.

“Since we don’t actually experiment with COVID virus in our lab, we tested it on a model bacterial virus and found it to work really well against the model virus,” Turner said. “So then we suggested to Parnell to have it tested against COVID. That’s how it all came about.”

Dr. Francis Parnell, chairman and CEO of Parnell Pharmaceuticals, said in the press release, “An independent, outside laboratory has confirmed our findings and found it to be greater than 99.9% effective in vitro against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

“Our product is based upon existing FDA approvals of the active ingredients for use in intravenous and inhalation formulations for other indications. Since the nose is the main route of entry into the body of SARS-CoV-2, we have prepared it in a nasal spray,” Parnell said.

Parnell has applied for funding from the U.S. government program Operation Warp Speed, and asked for an Emergency Use Authorization, which will allow the product to be manufactured and distributed while doing the necessary Phase III Clinical Trials.

At New Mexico Tech, “this is a step forward in a long journey of the product development,” Turner said. “We’re the first in a long time at NMT to have completed a license agreement with a pharmaceutical company. Now we’re working together with the company to get that product through the FDA.”

Turner said that thanks to the university’s strategy to encourage entrepreneurship, the research is paying off.

“We completed the license agreement with Parnell in April of 2019, so we have been working with them for a while now,” Turner said. “This is beneficial for both of us, in the sense that (Parnell) has the resources and the connections to do the clinical trials, and they have pre-existing pharmaceutical products. And of course, we have the science, the intellectual property.”

She said university President Stephen Wells, as well as the technology transfer director Dr. Peter Anselmo, actively promotes collaboration of NMT’s academics with entrepreneurial endeavors.

According to Rogelj, there are many NMT patents from a variety of disciplines that are being evaluated for translation into entrepreneurship.

“We, ourselves, also have several other entirely distinct patents that we are working on,” she said.

Parnell Pharmaceuticals is a closely-held, private pharmaceutical company founded in 1986 and headquartered in San Rafael, California, with an office in Dublin, Ireland. The company develops, manufactures, and markets prescription and over-the- counter drug products that maintain and restore mucosal and skin integrity.

The products are natural-based and patented for oral and nasal care, personal care, and anti-infective use. Parnell products are marketed and distributed in North America and Europe.

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