Topical TMPRSS2 inhibition prevents SARS-CoV-2 infection in differentiated human airway cultures

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Background There are limited effective prophylactic/early treatments for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Viral entry requires spike protein binding to the ACE2 receptor and cleavage by TMPRSS2, a cell surface serine protease. Targeting of TMPRSS2 by either androgen blockade or direct inhibition is in clinical trials in early SARS-CoV-2 infection. Methods We used differentiated primary human airway epithelial cells at the air-liquid interface to test the impact of targeting TMPRSS2 on the prevention of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Results We first modelled the systemic delivery of compounds. Enzalutamide, an oral androgen receptor antagonist, had no impact on SARS-Cov-2 infection. By contrast, camostat mesylate, an orally available serine protease inhibitor, blocked SARS-CoV-2 entry. However, oral camostat is rapidly metabolised in the circulation, with poor airway bioavailability. We therefore modelled local airway administration by applying camostat to the apical surface of differentiated airway cultures. We demonstrated that a brief exposure to topical camostat effectively restricts SARS-CoV-2 infection. Conclusion These experiments demonstrate a potential therapeutic role for topical camostat for pre- or post-exposure prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2, which can now be evaluated in a clinical trial.

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Life Science Alliance
Wellcome Trust (084957/Z/08/Z)
National Centre for the Replacement Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC/S001204/1)
MRC (MR/V011561/1)
MRC (via University of Birmingham) (MR/V028448/1)
Addenbrooke's Charitable Trust (ACT) (900241)
National Institute for Health Research (NIHRDH-IS-BRC-1215-20014)
SARS-CoV-2/human/Liverpool/REMRQ0001/2020 was a kind gift from Lance Turtle (University of Liverpool) and David Matthews and Andrew Davidson (University of Bristol). SARS-CoV-2 England/ATACCC 174/2020 was a kind gift from Greg Towers (University College London), and we are also grateful to Ajit Lalvani, Jake Dunning, Maria Zambon and colleagues at Public Health England and Giada Mattiuzzo at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Controls and Wendy Barclay and Jonathan Brown and all colleagues in the United Kingdom Research Institute funded collaboration Genotype to Phenotype. Sheep anti-SARS-CoV-2 nucleoprotein antibody (DA114) was a kind gift from Paul Davies (obtained from MRC PPU Reagents and Services, University of Dundee). LnCAP cells were a kind gift from Charlie Massie. We gratefully acknowledge the support from Dr Ravindra Mahadeva and Ms Jacqui Galloway in establishing the primary cells from patients. We are grateful for the generous support of the UKRI COVID Immunology Consortium, Addenbrooke’s Charitable Trust (15/20A) and the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre. This work was supported by a Wellcome Trust Principal Research Fellowship (084957/Z/08/Z) and MRC research grant MR/V011561/1 to P.J.L. This work was supported by the NC3Rs NC/S001204/1 project grant and the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation grant (2015/10/McCaughan) to FM. This paper presents independent research supported by the NIHR Cambridge BRC. The NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) is a partnership between Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and the University of Cambridge, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.