Large tech conferences are ideal for networking with colleagues you may see only once a year.
You know what else likes to network at large conferences? Viruses.
If February’s OurCrowd Global Summit had been held in the last couple of years (it was canceled in 2021 and 2022 due to COVID restrictions), it would have been dubbed a super-spreader event. Nine thousand attendees were crammed into packed corridors and lecture halls in the Jerusalem International Convention Center, and there’s no doubt that at least some of the participants must have been sick – if not with COVID then with the flu or common cold.
I apparently wasn’t the only one concerned about picking up a bug at the summit.
Testing an antiviral spray at the OurCrowd summit
Israeli-Canadian start-up SaNOtize set up a booth to test its antiviral spray, enovid. The company’s co-founder and chief science officer, Chris Miller, told me this was “the world’s first double-blind clinical trial launched at a convention.”
SaNOtize cites studies claiming that by using nitric oxide (NO) and the company’s proprietary NORS (Nitric Oxide Releasing Solution), enovid can kill 99% of virus particles in two minutes. A 2022 study published in The Lancet found that if you did catch COVID, treatment with enovid cut the duration of disease by 50% compared with a control group.
In another double-blind controlled study, enovid reduced the viral RNA load in infected COVID patients by more than 95% within 24 hours of treatment.
“For over a decade, we have known that NO is an antiviral,” Gilly Regev, SaNOtize’s Israeli CEO, told me. “NO is a naturally occurring molecule with documented antiviral, antibiotic and antifungal properties. We have used it on ourselves for years while traveling.”
“I haven’t gotten the flu for 10 years. And I’ve never caught COVID.”Chris Miller
“I haven’t gotten the flu for 10 years,” Miller added. “And I’ve never caught COVID.”
Enovid works by creating both a physical and a chemical barrier in the nose.
First, “the gelling agent creates a mechanical barrier that traps viruses within the nasal cavity and prevents them from further entry into the respiratory tract causing infection,” Regev said.
A chemical barrier is also established by the NO, as it destroys the shape of the spikes/protrusions of any viruses present – COVID, the flu, rhinoviruses and RSV – rendering as useless the part of the virus that’s evolved to penetrate the body’s cells and replicate.
The SaNOtize clinical trial at the OurCrowd Summit enrolled around 450 people. Half the participants received the real thing and half a “sham” – a neutral saline solution. Daily reminders to spray and test (five home antigen kits were included in the trial kit) were sent by email and SMS. Participants who completed the full 10-day process and filled in all the forms received a $100 Amazon gift certificate.
“What happens if you get the sham and you wind up getting COVID or the flu?” I asked Miller.
“We stop the trial and immediately send you the real spray,” Miller replied.
What if you were in close proximity to a known COVID or flu carrier?
“You have a three- to four-hour window when exposed to the virus before it penetrates the host cell and starts replicating and shredding into the nasal passages,” Miller told me.
You can buy enovid in Israel, Europe and parts of Southeast Asia, but not yet in North America, where NO is approved only as a prescription drug to help with blue baby syndrome (persistent pulmonary hypertension in newborns). Phase III trials are starting now. In Israel, enovid is sold over the counter for NIS 139.
When NO was first being tested in the early 1990s, it was delivered through pressurized gas cylinders. Part of SaNOtize’s innovation is to deliver NO as a spray to use at home rather than requiring expensive tanks.
SaNOtize has 20 employees and has raised over $40 million. Miller, a respiratory therapist, completed a PhD in 2004 on the antimicrobial properties of NO. Regev has a doctorate in biochemistry from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“Can’t you still get sick by breathing in a virus through the mouth?” I inquired. While that certainly can happen, “the major route of entry, and specifically the incubation location, for respiratory viruses is in the nasal cavity,” Miller explained.
Now that COVID is becoming less of a concern, will this harm SaNOtize’s sales of enovid?
“SaNOtize was never a COVID-specific company,” Miller said. While, during the pandemic, the company accelerated its application of enovid for viral contagions, the original research was to treat sinusitis, warts, nail fungus and diabetic foot ulcers. “We are already pivoting back,” Miller said.
SaNOtize has an organizational model that’s the opposite of most Israeli start-ups: R&D is in Canada, while manufacturing is in Israel. Why the flip? I asked Miller. “Israel was simply faster. It would have taken us 18 months to ramp up production in North America.”
YOU’RE PROBABLY wondering at this point what were the results of my SaNOtize clinical trial. While I don’t know if I got the real spray or the sham, I also didn’t catch COVID or the flu.
Was that just good luck or does enovid really work? The science is promising; ask me again in 10 years whether, like Miller, I remained flu and COVID-free.
In the meantime, with an overseas trip scheduled in just a week’s time, I bought a bottle of enovid at my local Super-Pharm “just in case” and plan to prophylactically do the recommended three to four sprays a day (twice in each nostril) while on the road.
“It’s another tool in our pandemic preparedness toolbox,” Regev told me.
In that respect, I hope that enovid can live up to its catchy tag line: “Hand sanitizer but for the nose.” ■
The writer’s book Totaled: The Billion-Dollar Crash of the Startup that Took on Big Auto, Big Oil and the World is available on Amazon and other online booksellers. brianblum.com