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Durham-Based Startup Could Have New COVID-19 Treatment

Credit Chuck Liddy / For WUNC

A Durham-based life sciences company received promising test results on a new medical device that could become an in-home treatment for the coronavirus.

EmitBio's device targets light to the back of the throat. After four days of treatment, patients saw nearly all of the virus eliminated from their bodies. That's compared to more than six days for the virus to diminish in the control group, according to clinical trial results, something EmitBio executive chairman Neal Hunter called "a very big difference."

Importantly, the device is easy to handle can be reused.

"You're talking about two treatments per day. Five minutes each. And all done in your home," said Hunter, who is known in the Triangle as the co-founder and former chairman of Cree.

"The big difference here is that our device will last two years, three years, possibly," he added. "It's an electronic device. So it's not going to run out, if you will."

EmitBio announced Thursday that its treatment is also effective in treating other coronaviruses, including the highly lethal Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

EmitBio has applied for Emergency Use Authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.

"The only hurdle we need to cross is the FDA doing what we hope they'll do and give us the EUA. And then we're good to go," Hunter said. "We think that within this calendar year, assuming we got EUA approval fairly soon, we feel like that we could make probably in the range of 300 to 500 million devices."

Even as the COVID-19 vaccine makes its way into the population, the virus can still spread among those who don't have the vaccine, or if the vaccine doesn't prove as effective against new variants as experts hope. 

"Vaccines are a front-line necessity, and even though they have an incredibly high level of protection at over 90%, people aren't going to just return to normal daily living without regard for this virus," said Dr. Mike Knowles said in a statement distributed by EmitBio. Knowles is a professor in the UNC School of Medicine's Department of Pulmonary Diseases and Critical Care Medicine.

"To have an at-home treatment available to use at the first signs of symptoms can help us all return to pre-COVID life," Knowles added.

Patients would need a prescription to get the device. EmitBio is an operating subsidiary of KNOW Bio.

Copyright 2021 North Carolina Public Radio

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC data reporter, a position he took in September, 2016.