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Chester County drug developer Virpax working on ‘molecular mask’ to combat Covid-19

September 4, 2020

By John George – Senior Reporter, Philadelphia Business Journal

Virpax Pharmaceuticals Inc. has joined the battle against Covid-19 through a new technology licensing agreement with a London life sciences company.

The Chester County drug developer signed the deal with Nanomerics Ltd. for the exclusive North America rights to its experimental high-density “molecular masking” spray technology platform for the potential prevention of seasonal influenza and viral infections in humans.

Financial terms of the deal are being kept confidential.

Virpax previously signed a licensing deal with Nanomerics to use the platform for an experimental pain medicine, NES100, that Virpax has under development.

Virpax CEO Anthony Mack said the company’s new prophylactic project, MMS019, involves a nasal powder spray that is delivered using a preassembled device and cartridge to propel the formulation into the nose. The spray is being designed to prevent viruses from binding to epithelial cells in the nasal cavity and the upper respiratory tract.

One of the uses for which MMS019 is being developed is to block SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.

Virpax believes MMS019 may offer a layer of protection, in the form of a “molecular mask,” that can be added to standard personal protective equipment to shield health care workers, and others at risk of contracting serious diseases, from infection.

Mack said in vitro testing shows MMS019 has the potential to provide 24-hour protection, making it ideal for health care providers, paramedics and other front-line workers.

“We believe MMS019 can work together with current personal protective equipment to enhance our ability to help prevent the spread of respiratory viral infections and seasonal influenza,” Mack said.

Virpax, which has left its Malvern offices and is now operating virtually during the pandemic, intends to develop the product for potential FDA accelerated review in healthy human volunteers “as soon as possible.”

Earlier this week, Virpax entered into a cooperative research and development agreement with the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health, for NES100. Virpax is developing the intranasal peptide for the management of acute and chronic non-cancer pain. The agreement involves NIH researchers conducting clinical trial work on NES100 on behalf of the company.

Virpax is also continuing to work on another non-opioid pain drug candidate, an aerosol-based system that delivers active pharmaceutical ingredients as a “patch-in-a-can.”

The company’s first application of the technology is a potential product for acute pain.

“It’s actually a spray film technology,” Mack said in a 2018 interview with the Philadelphia Business Journal. “If you think of an inhaler, you press a button and it delivers a metered dose of medicine. It’s the exact same amount every time. What this technology does is spray on a film that contains a precise amount of drug that penetrates skin, and creates a light coating on the skin that prevents the drug from leaving.”

The spray goes on wet and quickly dries, leaving a non-sticky shine on the skin. “You can wear clothes over it,” Mack said.

Mack said the company expects to file an investigational new drug application for the product in early 2021, which would allow it to begin human testing.