J&J program adds Ena's infectious disease nasal spray to roster

Ena Respiratory has landed a spot on the Blue Knight program set up by Johnson & Johnson and the U.S. Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, positioning it to benefit from mentorship as it seeks to hustle its infectious disease nasal spray to market. 

Australia’s Ena is focused on INNA-051, a nasal spray that uses a TLR2/6 agonist to try to stimulate innate immune responses in airway epithelial cells. The idea is to help people to fight off SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viral infections in the nasal passages where infections often first take hold, thereby reducing the risk of disease progression.

Ena raised AU$32 million ($24 million) to fund the development of the nasal spray last year, enabling it to move into a phase 1 clinical trial in July. INNA-051 is now in a phase 2a influenza challenge pre-exposure prophylaxis study.

The progress of INNA-051 has caught the attention of Blue Knight, an initiative J&J set up with the U.S. government in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Blue Knight picked seven startups from J&J’s global JLABS network to participate when the initiative got underway in 2020, handing each of the companies $500,000 and mentorship opportunities. 

Ena framed its participation in Blue Knight as a way to access mentorship and tap into “a global network of innovators who could provide critical insight and support throughout INNA-051 development.” The Sydney-based startup is a virtual resident within JLABS. 

Blue Knight lists 18 current JLABS’ residents, not including Ena, and one alumni among its companies. The list includes Decoy Therapeutics, the developer of an anti-viral fusion inhibitor peptide nasal spray as a SARS-CoV-2 prophylactic.