Bridging The Gap

Preparing for the next pandemic

Preparing for the next pandemic

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one fact is certain – there will be another pandemic. Whether the viral agent will be another coronavirus, a new influenza strain, or another novel virus, a pandemic is inevitable.

How do we, as a human society, prepare ourselves for the next pandemic? First, we need to learn lessons from this and previous outbreaks – including the need for strategic planning, public messaging, and testing and tracing efforts.

The next weapon we can use is repurposing drugs developed during this pandemic. This is where SPARK’s nasal drops come into play.

SPARK GLOBAL has pulled together an international coalition to develop a unique therapy to slow down COVID-19 infection, using nasal drops containing chicken antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

The technology works by immunizing chickens with a viral protein, against which the chickens develop an immune response and produce antibodies. The antibodies, called IgY, are passed to the chicken’s eggs, from which they can be easily extracted and formulated into nasal drops to provide temporary, immediate protection against a virus. The SPARK team is currently developing a therapy meant to prevent COVID-19 by immunizing the chickens with a recombinant fragment of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.

But any virus can easily be targeted by just swapping out the protein that is injected into the chickens.

Chickens are normally immunized against chicken diseases, so it isn’t a new procedure to inject them. What’s novel here is the idea of using chickens to produce antibodies to combat a human virus.

Daria Mochly-Rosen, who has been spearheading SPARK’s efforts to develop the COVID preventative therapy, said, “we think this could be a blueprint to deal with the next virus that poses a global threat, without the delay of lengthy clinical trials or the need to prove a clear path to profit.”

Mochly-Rosen and her team have been carefully designing the protocols for the nasal drops’ testing, production and distribution with a future pandemic in mind. The team is performing animal safety and efficacy studies, and a Phase I safety trial in humans is concurrently underway. By carefully developing and testing the technology now using industry standards, once approved by regulatory authorities like FDA, a modified therapy against a new virus could go straight to clinical efficacy studies and bypass early stage testing.

In the current COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese scientists sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome quickly after it appeared in that country, and published the sequence publicly on January 10, 2020. If the blueprint for the nasal drops had been ready, IgY against SARS-CoV-2 could have been made available by the middle of February to halt the pandemic before it took off.

A similar precedent could take place in the next pandemic.

Once the important viral proteins of the new virus have been identified – like the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein used to immunize the chickens for the nasal drops and also used in COVID-19 vaccines – chickens can be immunized with the new protein and nasal drops can be ready for clinical efficacy studies in as soon as six weeks.

IgY antibodies could therefore serve as a platform technology that can be quickly pivoted to target any new virus, a ‘plug and play’ technology such as the vaccine tech that the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is working towards.

We’ve been warned time and time again that another pandemic is coming. To be prepared for an imminent pandemic, having the blueprints for therapies and prophylactics will be invaluable. But in order to finish the current project and have a blueprint ready for the next time, SPARK needs funding.

If you are interested in contributing a donation to the project, or would like more information, please visit SPARK’s COVID-19 website here.