Melbourne-based company Esfam Biotech has been awarded $1 million in funding from the federal government’s Medical Research Future Fund following its recent discovery in COVID-19 treatment research.

The company’s recent animal trials and preclinical studies suggest there could be a potential new acute and preventive COVID-19 treatment.

Esfam Biotech Director and CEO, Professor Albert Frauman, said delcetravir has the potential to treat active infections, as well as prevent infection in people exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

“If we compare treatment with delcetravir to untreated infection, using it in animal models leads to complete, or near-complete clearance of the lung inflammation associated with COVID-19 infection, after only three and a half days,” said Professor Frauman.

Delcetravir works by blocking the binding of the SARS-CoV-2 virus to cells, by a unique mechanism, not through the ACE-2 receptor which has previously been studied.

The company said its studies have also determined that delcetravir might be feasible as a post-exposure preventative, on its own. In addition, cell-based experiments against the omicron strain suggest that delcetravir might be effective in preventing SARS-CoV-2 infection.

“The success we’ve had with delcetravir is the reason we’re developing a dry powder inhalational formulation, very similar to an asthma puffer. There are obvious advantages in using a hand-held puffer for acute and preventive treatment, in particular delivering the drug directly to the main target of COVID infection – the lungs. Unlike orally absorbed drugs, inhalational treatment has the potential to reduce drug absorption into the rest of the body and thereby reduce the risk of side effects. Delcetravir could be the first anti-viral delivered through inhalation,” said Professor Frauman.

Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute and a member of Esfam Biotech’s scientific advisory board, said that “despite the availability of highly effective vaccines to prevent COVID-19, there remains an urgent need for better treatments for people who become infected with SARS-CoV-2. Although we have no clinical trial data with Delcetravir, the animal studies are indeed promising.”

Esfam has also announced the appointment of Adrian Hondrosas a non-executive director.

“Esfam is on the verge of some very exciting developments. The recent grant from the Federal Government adds further credibility to our work as we progress our efforts in developing our Delcetravir treatment for COVID-19,” he said.