A team of researchers at the University of Washington has designed and built from scratch a molecule that, when pitted against the coronavirus in the lab, can attack and sequester it at least as well as an antibody does.

The researchers call the molecule a “mini-binder” for its ability to stick to the coronavirus. When spritzed up the noses of mice and hamsters, it appears to protect the animals from becoming seriously sick.

Because of its engineering, the mini-binder can also withstand wide variations in temperature, making it extremely convenient, unlike antibodies that must be kept cold to preserve longevity.

The product is still in early stages of development, and will not be on the market any time soon. However, researchers said that it looked promising. Eventually, healthy people might be able to self-administer the mini-binders as a nasal spray, and potentially keep any inbound coronavirus particles at bay.

Researchers at Neoleukin, a biopharmaceutical company in Seattle, have also created a molecule that is a smaller, sturdier version of the human protein ACE-2 — one that has a far stronger grip on the virus, so the molecule could potentially serve as a decoy that prevents the pathogen from infecting human cells.

In a series of experiments described in a Neoleukin paper, the research team misted its ACE-2 decoy into the noses of hamsters, then exposed the animals to the coronavirus. The untreated hamsters fell dangerously ill, but animals that received the nasal spray fared far better.

The two machine-made molecules present a more affordable option to synthetic antibodies, which can cost thousands of dollars, said Lauren Carter, one of the researchers behind the University of Washington’s project.


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