Drug into lung direct real bonus

Associate Prof Shyamal Das is developing an inhaler that could be used to administer anti-Covid...
Associate Prof Shyamal Das is developing an inhaler that could be used to administer anti-Covid-19 drugs. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
A University of Otago expert is developing an inhaler containing anti-Covid 19 drugs that he believes could be key to beating the virus.

Associate Prof Shyamal Das, of the Department of Pharmacy, and a team that includes Prof Miguel Quinones-Mateu, of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, have been developing the formulation for an inhaler since late last year.

“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,” Assoc Prof Das said.

“As you know, this virus is very nasty and mutates quickly. So, this virus needs to be attacked in all possible ways. The inhaler will target all the different mechanisms it grows; this will be a very strong weapon.”

While vaccines were being rolled out across the world, including New Zealand, he believed the virus was likely to stay around.

Vaccination programmes could also take years, and vaccine manufacturing and storage was complex.

“To make it inhalable, we need to produce extremely tiny particles that can reach the lung when you inhale the powder. We have successfully developed an inhalable powder formulation containing one anti-Covid drug and we are now conducting anti-Covid efficacy testing of this formulation and making it stronger, incorporating other agents.”

An inhaled medication was able to be delivered in higher doses.

“Many drug candidates that inhibited the virus in the laboratory then failed in clinical studies. The major reason for this failure is an insufficient concentration of drugs in the lung, even after a high oral dose, which can also have numerous side effects,” he said.

“If we give the drug as an inhaler, an effective drug concentration in the lung can be achieved. Also, the inhaler dose of drug will be significantly less than the dose of drugs that is required to achieve an effective concentration in the lung if given as tablets, capsules or by injections.”

The University of Otago has the only powder inhaler laboratory in the country, and a lab that enables researchers to investigate live pathogens.

But the research comes with a hefty price tag, so it may still take up to two years to have a formulation ready for clinical trials, he said.

“I am applying for all the major grants, but those decisions take time. The quicker the funding is available, the quicker we can deliver the project.’’

 - There were three new cases of Covid-19 in managed isolation, and no new community cases yesterday.

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