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Covid-19 inhaler being developed to directly attack the virus

University of Otago Associate Professor, Shyamal Das, of the School of Pharmacy in Dunedin, and PhD student, Tushar Saha (foreground), working in the laboratory
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A University of Otago team is developing a powder inhaler that could treat the Covid-19 virus by targeting the lungs, where the virus is mostly present.

School of Pharmacy Associate Professor, Shyamal Das, says a small team has successfully prepared an inhalable formulation containing an anti-Covid drug. He can’t specify which drug because they’re applying for a patent.

The project is in its intermediate stage and he says the inhaler will be important in treating the virus, which has caused millions of deaths worldwide. Associate Professor Das is an expert in respiratory drug delivery.

Once a person inhales the medicine, it will go directly to the lung where the virus is mostly present, so it will directly attack the virus and kill it and cure the patient,” he says.

 

“This virus is very nasty and mutates quickly. So, this virus needs to be attacked in all possible ways.”

Since May last year, he’s been working on the inhaler at a School of Pharmacy laboratory in Dunedin with PhD student, Tushar Saha. Professor Miguel Quinones-Mateu, from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is also on the team.

Associate Professor Das says that using a highly-specialised machine, in-vitro characterisation of the powder inhaler was conducted in the lab to model its effectiveness. Now the team wants to further improve the drug.

Once they have done that, optimistically, in about two years, animal trials will be carried out, then human clinical trials on Covid-19 patients.

The main obstacle is funding. While the Otago Medical Research Foundation has given a small grant, team members are developing the inhaler in their spare time.

“If we can get funding, it would be expedited,” Associate Professor Das says.

He has also applied for a major grant, which would pay for a research fellow to work full-time on developing the inhaler.

University of Otago Associate Professor (Pharmaceutical Sciences), Shyamal Das, pictured
at the Otago Museum Reserve in Dunedin

The pharmaceutical scientist says that although Covid-19 vaccines are now being administered across the world, the virus is likely to stay around.

He points to a February 2021 Comment in the medical journal, The Lancet, in which the International Science Council Interim Covid-19 Working Group said that for several reasons, having vaccines does not mean the crisis is close to being resolved.

Associate Professor Das says Covid-19 will remain like influenza, so it is “of utmost urgency to find a safe and effective treatment.”

An inhaled medication not only goes straight to a Covid patient’s lungs, where the virus is present, but can also be delivered in higher-concentrations than tablets, capsules or injections, he says.

Now is Covid inhaler time.”

 

This is not the School of Pharmacy’s first positive contribution to the Covid-19 crisis. From March to June last year, Associate Professor Das, Tushar and five other students produced about 1210 litres of hand sanitiser.

This was used by School staff and students, the University’s essential services and colleges, Civil Defence, emergency services, Driving Miss Daisy in Dunedin, a North Island Māori Health provider and the Pacific community’s Moana Nui festival.

This voluntary effort freed up commercial supplies for the public. Frequent handwashing for 20 seconds helps prevent the spread of Covid-19.

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For more information:

About Covid-19 and handwashing

Our April 2020 story about that voluntary effort

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