Research Roundup: A simple, rapid COVID-19 diagnostic, a potential remdesivir-like treatment, and nasal spray vaccines
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The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) last week granted emergency use authorization (EUA) to a rapid, inexpensive COVID-19 diagnostic test developed by Abbott Laboratories that delivers results within 15 minutes. The test, which works by detecting antigens unique to SARS-CoV-2, is the first COVID-19 antigen diagnostic that does not require specialized equipment to read the results. The diagnostic does require a health care professional to obtain a nasal swab from the patient, which is then inserted into a credit card–sized device. A strip inside changes color if SARS-CoV-2 proteins are detected. Abbott has said the company intends to produce tens of millions of the diagnostic in September and 50 million in October, to be priced at US$5 per test.
The National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) will begin studies on GS-441524, a compound similar to remdesivir, as a potential treatment for COVID-19. The compound, developed by Gilead, has not yet been tested in humans, but research suggests it works in the same way as remdesivir and is active against SARS-CoV-2. Gilead says it has primarily pursued remdesivir due to evidence that it is more effective than GS-441524 at blocking viral replication in test tubes and animal models and was more active against multiple coronaviruses in lab tests. Other researchers have said GS-441524 could have similar or superior effects to remdesivir, is more easily synthesized enabling easier creation of oral versions, and does not cause much toxicity. NCATS expressed its intention to further study the compound in an August 20 letter and has said it expects to conduct studies quickly and make results available to the research community.
Scientists are looking into an alternative vaccine delivery route to combat COVID-19: nasal sprays. The majority of vaccines—and all current COVID-19 vaccine candidates in clinical trials—are delivered as an injection into muscle to optimize the human immune response and prevent people from becoming sick. A nasal spray, some researchers say, could be more effective in helping to prevent the spread of disease, as COVID-19 infection can take hold in the nose or throat before systemic immunity from a vaccine kicks in, allowing infection to still spread to others. The nasal spray could provide a local immune response in the nose and throat as well as a systemic response through the entire body. Multiple researchers are in early stages of developing nasal spray vaccines, including one with inspiration from an existing nasal spray flu vaccine.