Clinical trials are underway in the United Kingdom to test a nasal spray to kill the coronavirus in the nose before it can infect the rest of the body, potentially saving lives and slowing the pandemic.

Developed by Vancouver-based SaNotize Research and Development Corp, the spray has proved more than 99% effective in lab testing, and is also undergoing clinical trials in Canada.

“It will have a huge impact, especially on hospitalization,” said Dr. Isaac John, Deputy Director of Research & Development at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in Surrey, England, where SaNOtize began clinical trials earlier this month. “I think it’s quite revolutionary in this sense because at the moment we don’t have anything else that we can use for the early symptoms at home,” he told Sam Holder at ITV News London.

The spray is based on nitric oxide, a naturally-occurring molecule that in lab tests inactivated up to 99.9% of SARs-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, within two minutes, according to the company and the Institute for Antiviral Research at Utah State University.  In theory, people could apply it if they fear they have been exposed to the virus, or simply use it a few times a day as a preventative measure. Those who have tested positive for COVID-19 could also start using it to try to kill the virus in their nose before it begins to affect their lungs, in the hope it would make their illness less severe.

Trial participants say they are participating not only for their own health, but also hoping to help solve the pandemic.

“We need to get rid of COVID,” said Sharon Main, a trial participant who volunteered to test the spray after testing positive for the virus, and after watching her brother, a cancer patient, fall ill and then recover from COVID. “There are so many people out there suffering.”

Scientists have described it as a sort of hand sanitizer, but for the nose and respiratory tract.

“This potentially could be a real game changer,” said Dr. Pankja Sharma, Director of R&D and Director of Clinical Education at Ashford and St Peter’s. “We could actually envision a time where people could carry these nasal sprays all the time with them, and they spray themselves three or four times a day even if they have not got an infection just to prevent the infection from actually occurring in the first place.”

The nitric oxide attacks the virus’s spike protein, or the points sticking out of the membrane that give it a crown-like appearance and its name: “corona” is the Latin for “crown.”  If the spike protein is destroyed, the virus cannot attach itself to the body in order to replicate and cause illness, the company said. The recently-approved vaccines from Pfize and Moderna also target the spike protein.

But with global coronavirus cases rising, and the rollout of vaccines going at a relatively slow pace in many parts of the world, including the UK, and with the vaccines still unavailable in many poorer countries, the spray could be key to stopping the pandemic.

It could also be used against other types of infections.

“Nitric oxide is an incredibly versatile molecule that regulates almost everything in our body,” said Dr. Ferid Murad, an American pharmacologist and physician who won a 1998 Nobel prize for his work on the molecule.  “When used therapeutically, it has a well-documented safety profile and is demonstrated to be effective against a wide variety of viruses, bacteria and fungi.”

Previous SaNotize trials have shown the substance safe and effective against sinus infections and some types of influenza.

“Our goal has long been to find a way to use nitric oxide’s antimicrobial properties to improve human health,” said Dr. Gilly Regev, CEO and cofounder of SaNotize, which is partly backed by Jerusalem-based equity investment platform OurCrowd. “We are working around the clock to achieve that goal in time to help with the fight against Covid-19.”

In addition to the ongoing trials in Canada and England, the company is seeking emergency-use approval in the United States from the Food and Drug Administration.

Watch the ITV report here. Learn more about SaNOtize here.