New antiviral materials made from sugar have been developed by NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials researchers and colleagues at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the University of Manchester, and the University of Geneva. They can destroy viruses on contact and may help in the fight against viral outbreaks.
This development from a collaborative team of international scientists including NCCR Principal Investigator Professor Francesco Stellacci (EPFL) and NCCR alum Dr. Samuel Jones (University of Manchester), shows promise for the treatment of herpes simplex (cold sore virus), respiratory syncytial virus, hepatitis C, HIV, and Zika virus to name a few. The team have demonstrated success treating a range of viruses in the lab, from respiratory infections to genital herpes.
‘Virucidal’ substances, such as bleach, are typically capable of destroying viruses on contact but are extremely toxic to humans and so cannot be taken or applied to the human body without causing severe harm. Developing virucides from sugar has allowed for the development of an antiviral drug, which destroys viruses while remaining non-toxic to humans.
Current antiviral drugs work by inhibiting virus growth, but they are not always reliable as viruses can mutate and become resistant to these treatments. Using modified sugar molecules, the team demonstrated that the outer shell of a virus can be disrupted, thereby destroying the infectious particles on contact, as opposed to simply restricting its growth. This new approach has also been shown to be effective against drug resistance.
The research published in the journal Science Advances shows that the team successfully engineered new modified molecules using natural glucose derivatives, known as cyclodextrins. The molecules attract viruses before breaking them down on contact, destroying the virus and fighting the infection.
According to the researchers, their development of a new powerful molecule able to work against very different viruses, one of the first to ever show broad-spectrum efficacy, gives it the potential to be a game changer in treating viral infections. The molecule has been patented, and a spinoff company is being set up. With further testing the treatment could find a use in creams, ointments and nasal sprays or other similar treatments for viral infections. This new material can work to break down multiple viruses, enabling cost-effective treatments even for resistant viruses. Although at an early stage of development, the broad-spectrum activity of this compound could also be effective against emerging viruses.
Original EPFL press release: Unique new antiviral treatment made using sugar
Journal article: Jones, S. T. et al. Modified cyclodextrins as broad-spectrum antivirals. Science Advances 6, eaax9318 (2020) [open access]