In-Depth: San Diego company making COVID nasal drops says new formula potent against omicron

Sorrento Therapeutics COVIDROPS
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jan 20, 2022

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — A San Diego biotech announced promising new results Thursday in its push to develop the first nasal drop treatment for COVID-19.

Sorrento Therapeutics has been conducting phase II clinical trials on COVIDROPS since last summer. The trials are underway in the U.K., Mexico, and the U.S. to assess the drug’s safety and effectiveness. The one-dose nasal drops are intended to prevent severe disease in people with a recent infection.

Since the arrival of omicron, the company has been exploring an updated formula for the neutralizing antibody treatment. Antibody drugs bind to a virus and disable it, mimicking natural defenses made by the immune system.

On Thursday, Sorrento announced the results of lab tests showing that one of its antibodies named STI-9167, initially discovered last year, far exceeds the viral blocking power of any currently authorized antibody treatment against omicron.

In pre-clinical experiments, the antibody was at least 10 times more potent against omicron than sotrovimab, said Sorrento CEO and founder Dr. Henry Ji.

Sotrovimab is an antibody infusion treatment for people in the early stages of COVID. It’s in short supply across the country because it is currently the only authorized monoclonal antibody treatment that still works against omicron.

Because it’s administered as an IV, sotrovimab infusions require medical staff and a lot of time.

“They have to be in an infusion center and that is approximately 3 to 4 hours of time to get that,” said Sorrento Senior VP Dr. Mark Brunswick. “A nose drop would be given in about a minute.”

Lab tests and animal experiments show STI-9167 is not only more potent against omicron, it’s also powerful against all previous variants of concern, the company said.

Sorrento will have to prove that in human trials, but Sorrento chief medical officer Dr. Mike Royal says there are plenty of reasons to think that nose drops will be a better early treatment than an IV needle in the arm.

“Since we know omicron tends to largely replicate in the upper airways, our intranasal approach targets the virus exactly where it’s taking up housekeeping,” he said.

Sorrento isn’t alone. Several companies are trying to be the first to release an intranasal treatment for COVID. The method can deliver high doses to drug to the lungs and airways, but it doesn’t penetrate other parts of the body as well, Dr. Royal said.

The question now is whether an intranasal treatment can stack up against other next-generation antivirals, like Pfizer’s pill Paxlovid.

Dr. Brunswick points out that Paxlovid is not available to all patients.

“Certain drugs can’t be taken in combination with the Pfizer pill,” he said. “The Pfizer pill is not available for kids. Not for pregnant women. All sorts of restrictions. This would be no restrictions.”

Sorrento is already testing its original formula of COVIDROPS on kids in a clinical trial in Mexico. The company hopes to start clinical trials on the updated formula in March.

If all goes well, COVIDROPS could be on the market during the third quarter of this year, Dr. Ji said.