Ena Respiratory has raised up to $32 million Australian dollars ($24 million) to fund clinical development of a nasal spray designed to prevent COVID-19. The product, INNA-051, delivers a TLR2/6 agonist to upregulate innate immune responses in airway epithelial cells and thereby help suppress the coronavirus.
While vaccines are bringing protection against COVID-19 to the masses, there remains a population of people who are either unable to take the prophylactics or generate a limited immune response to them. Ena is one of a number of organizations working on COVID-19 nasal sprays that could provide protection to those patients as well as potentially offer another line of defense to at-risk groups.
Australian life science investors Brandon Capital Partners and Minderoo Foundation have bought into the idea, co-leading a financing round with the support of Uniseed. The investors have tied some of the cash to milestones. Ena will reel in AU$32 million if it hits all of the milestones.
Interest in INNA-051 is underpinned by a study researchers at Public Health England ran using money from Ena. The study tested INNA-051 in a SARS-CoV-2 ferret infection model. Use of the spray was associated with a 96% fall in virus in throat swabs and a 93% drop in virus in nasal wash, compared to untreated animals.
“Ena Respiratory’s novel therapy stimulates innate immunity to target viruses in the nose. It has the potential to impact the way we treat and prevent not just COVID-19, but influenza, the common cold and other respiratory illnesses,” Ruth Tal-Singer, Ph.D., president and chief scientific officer of the COPD Foundation, said in a statement.
Tal-Singer, formerly of GlaxoSmithKline, recently took a seat on the board of Ena. While Ena’s first goal is to establish INNA-051 in COVID-19, it sees a rationale for using the candidate more broadly in the prevention of respiratory viral infections that exacerbate serious lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma and cystic fibrosis.
Ena expects to start a phase 1 study of INNA-051 in Australia in the coming weeks.