As the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to grow, drug companies are leaving no stone unturned in developing effective, low-cost treatments.

Now, researchers have been studying a powerful nano-molecule that is found in the cells of the blood vessels called nitric oxide to understand whether it can help treat COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Studies have shown that nitric oxide plays a key role in relaxing the blood vessels and opening the air passages in the lung, which is important in treating patients with severe cases.

Canadian biotech company SaNOtize Research is experimenting with nitric oxide through nasal spray or mouth gargles on those who are at a high risk of getting infected from COVID-19 in the first place.

The National Research Council gave the company a $400,000 grant to conduct phase two of a clinical trial on high-risk people, including front-line health workers and those with mild symptoms of COVID-19.

The trial started in British Columbia, which is now being expanded in Quebec from today.

Chief Scientific Officer of SaNOtize Chris Miller told CTV News, “It’s really important we get this trial done as soon as possible and then we can work with regulatory authority, then we can turn it around in three to four months.”

Apart from relaxing blood vessels and opening the airways in the lung, Nitric Oxide is found to have an antibacterial and antiviral effect, according to the researchers.

Nitric oxide nasal spray developed by SaNOtize is designed to disinfect the upper airways. Lab tests conducted by the company suggest that the nasal spray inactivated over 99.9 percent of the coronavirus that too with two minutes.

CEO of SaNOtize Gilly Regev told CTV Vancouver, “You’re using a hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands. It’s a similar idea, but instead of a hand sanitizer, it’s a nasal spray to disinfect your upper airway.”

In one study, researchers at the University Health Network in Toronto are experimenting to see whether high-dose inhaled nitric oxide given in hospitals can reduce the levels of the virus and improve breathing in coronavirus patients who are on ventilators.

In another study, scientists in Boston and Louisiana are giving nitric oxide to hundreds of critically ill COVID-19 patients. The study’s preliminary results are expected in the coming weeks.

Some researchers said side effects from nitric oxide are minimal and they hope to have more data on the various approaches later this year, before the expected second wave of the disease.

Louis Ignarro, American pharmacologist who demonstrated the signaling properties of nitric oxide, said, “There’s every reason to believe that the nitric oxide will work in the present coronavirus situation.” Ignarro, who was the co-recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, added, “That’s going to be worth much more than the Nobel Prize I will be so happy. You know I’m 79-years-old and this would just be the most fantastic thing I could hear.”