A broad-spectrum antiviral, which Starpharma uses in condoms, has been found to be 99.99 per cent effective against COVID-19.
A broad-spectrum antiviral, which Starpharma uses in condoms, has been found to be 99.99 per cent effective against COVID-19.

Safe sex antiviral used in COVID-19 fight

An antiviral product used to ensure safe sex is being deployed to fight COVID-19 in Europe - except it will be sprayed up noses instead of on condoms.

Melbourne-based biotech Starpharma is ramping up manufacturing of its Viraleze nasal spray - which it says studies have shown is 99.99 per cent effective against COVID-19 - in anticipation of receiving approval from European regulators.

Chief executive Jackie Fairley said the company was planning to launch the product in Europe and the UK, where coronavirus has killed more than 700,000 people, in March.

Dr Fairley said the company was producing "hundreds of thousands" of doses in Belgium - using a manufacturer it already has a commercial relationship with - and the European Union's threats about banning coronavirus vaccine exports had nothing to do with the Starpharma serving the continent first.

Jackie Fairley, CEO of Starpharma, health care and biotech company, in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.
Jackie Fairley, CEO of Starpharma, health care and biotech company, in Melbourne. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian.

"That's all a very recent development. We are actually pursuing the European approval first, primarily because the European (COVID-19) situation is a very serious one, we are producing it in Europe because we have a relationship with that manufacturer and that was the fastest and lowest-risk place to manufacture it," Dr Fairley said.

"We considered that when making this decision several months ago, and it's also a large market so it is a commercially important market."

The product has been used for the past five years in two Starpharma products - an antiviral condom and a gel for the treatment and prevention of bacterial vaginosis.

Dr Fairley described it as another "layer of protection" and could be applied before or after potential exposure and last about six to eight hours before needing to be reapplied.

Starpharma has sought an expedited approval process, bypassing the usual clinical trial phases given the product is already approved for use for different applications in more than 40 countries for those applications.

"Our European regulatory submission has been completed and undergoing final review ahead of submission shortly," Dr Fairley said.

Starpharma shares rose 1.9 per cent to $1.62 on Wednesday compared with a 0.9 per cent gain across the broader share market.

Dr Fairley said the spray stops infection when applied to cells before and after exposure to the virus.

"The product can be used in a wide variety of risk situations. If you are about to walk into the supermarket, you would use it.

"The same on public transport or getting on a plane. Elevators are a prime example of where it is difficult to socially distance - and likewise at restaurants and bars where masks can be removed."

COVID-19 infects human cells by using the characteristic spike proteins to attach to proteins on the surface of human cells. Dr Fairley said the spray works by blocking the interaction between viral spike proteins and human cell proteins, preventing infection.

"The product can be used in a wide variety of risk situations," Dr Fairley said.

"If you are about to walk into the supermarket, you would use it. The same on public transport or getting on a plane. Elevators are a prime example of where it is difficult to socially distance - and likewise at restaurants and bars where masks can be removed."

John Shine, president of the Australian Academy of Science and former CSL chairman, said such products were needed, given vaccines did not prevent transmission of COVID-19.

"Vaccinated individuals will be protected from the worst of COVID-19 but will not be protected from becoming infected," Professor Shine said. "None of the vaccines that have been approved for use have demonstrated that they can stop transmission."

Originally published as Starpharma deploys safe sex antiviral in Covid-19 fight


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