HMRI researcher’s key role in development of preventative COVID-19 nasal spray

Sep 28 2020

Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) respiratory researchers from the University of Newcastle have played an integral role in developing a new preventative nasal spray treatment by Australian biotech company, Ena Respiratory, that could protect people from COVID-19 infection and prevent transmission.

The treatment, INNA-051, developed to boost the natural human immune system to fight common colds and flu in the nose and throat to prevent severe lung disease, has proved remarkably successful in reducing COVID-19 viral replication.

Research published today (September 28) in the biomedical pre-publication research site, medRxiv, shows it reduced viral replication and shedding in the nose and throat by up to 96 per cent in a gold-standard COVID-19 animal study led by Public Health England’s (PHE) deputy director, Professor Miles Carroll.

Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett from the University of Newcastle, and head of HMRI’s Viral Immunology and Respiratory Disease group, is one of the Ena Respiratory’s key advisors and research collaborators.

“We were researching INNA-051 prior to COVID-19 and discovered that it is very effective at priming the airways to more rapidly and effectively respond to a viral infection,” Associate Prof Bartlett said.

“The proof of concept data generated by HMRI’s team was instrumental in ensuring the treatment was ideally placed to be tested against the virus that causes COVID-19,” he said. 

The INNA-051 compound works by stimulating the innate immune system, the first line of defence against viruses. If successful in clinical trials, INNA-051 will complement the protection provided by vaccines, particularly in groups in which a vaccine is likely to be less effective such as the elderly and those with chronic lung disease.

Subject to successful toxicity studies and regulatory approval, Ena Respiratory could be ready to test INNA-051 in human trials in less than four months. The company says it will be an a self- administered nasal spray that is easy to manufacture and will be widely available

The company is seeking additional funding to accelerate the nasal spray’s clinical development and global distribution.

Director of HMRI, Professor Tom Walley said this project is another demonstration of how HMRI researchers are involved in leading international, translational research into treatments that improve people’s wellbeing and save lives. Prof Walley said HMRI provided seed-funding to Associate Prof Bartlett to support his research into COVID-19.

* HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.


Associate Professor Nathan Bartlett spoke with ABC Newcastle's Kia Handley about this exciting development. Listen here