Australian spinout eyes the clinic with a prophylactic nasal spray for Covid-19
Whether patients are immunocompromised or just don’t like needles, one fledgling Australian biotech says it has an alternative to Covid-19 vaccines that doesn’t involve a jab in the arm — and on Tuesday, it pulled in a fresh round of funding to take it into the clinic.
ENA Respiratory, which spun out of ENA Therapeutics last year, has pulled in nearly $24.7 million (AU $30 million) to advance its nasal spray for respiratory viral infections, the company said Tuesday.
The funding, triggered by milestones, was led by Australian investors Brandon Capital Partners and Minderoo Foundation, with Uniseed chiming in.
ENA’s lead candidate, INNA-051, is a small molecule that targets the TLR2/6 receptors on airway epithelial cells to boost the body’s natural immune response to viruses. It’s set to enter the clinic “in the coming weeks,” according to the ENA.
“Alongside vaccines, there is a need for complementary approaches to help protect the most vulnerable people and also provide protection against emerging variants,” co-founder and CEO Christophe Demaison said in a statement.
He sees the spray as especially useful for people who are elderly or immunocompromised, and can’t mount a sufficient response to currently available vaccines. It would be self-administered once or twice a week, either before or shortly after exposure. And because it’s not virus-specific, ENA believes INNA-051 could ward off other illnesses like the flu and common cold, as well as emerging Covid-19 variants.
Back in December, ENA published results in EBioMedicine showing that a group of ferrets treated with INNA-051 in a challenge study saw reduced viral replication of up to 96%.
“If humans respond in a similar way, the benefits of treatment are two-fold,” Demaison said at the time. “Individuals exposed to the virus would most likely rapidly eliminate it, with the treatment ensuring that the disease does not progress beyond mild symptoms. This is particularly relevant to vulnerable members of the community. In addition, the rapidity of this response means that the infected individuals are unlikely to pass it on, meaning a swift halt to community transmission.”
In addition to the funding, ENA is tapping GlaxoSmithKline vet Ruth Tal-Singer to its board of directors. While she’s currently president and CSO of the nonprofit COPD Foundation, Tal-Singer once held a variety of senior roles at the pharma, including VP of medical innovation and VP of respiratory R&D.
Nasal sprays have gained increasing interest as an alternative for those who can’t benefit from vaccines in the last year. Back in November, gene therapy pioneer James Wilson and his colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania inked a pact with Regeneron to see if they could combine the biotech’s Covid-19 antibody cocktail with a nasal spray-based AAV delivery platform. And back in March, GV led a $47 million round to fund Leyden Labs’ mission to develop a nasal spray that could protect people from a whole range of viruses for a few days.