You only need to inhale a puff of the airbrush and you can safely and without worries board the plane, go to a festival or visit a stage show. One of the antivirals in the spray temporarily protects you from corona contamination.
Science Fiction? Perhaps, but the first step towards a future antiviral nasal spray has been taken. Researchers on Erasmus MC in Rotterdam, along with their American colleagues, have convincingly proven that it works with rodents anyway. The results came out this week at Science.
Ferrets are very vulnerable to respiratory viruses such as corona. If one animal is infected, all the other rodents in the same cage will also become infected in no time. Although it does not make them seriously ill, the virus does activate the immune system and make antibodies. They make suitable rodents as “canaries in a coal mine” to study even the smallest risks of corona contamination. With this in mind, the results of the study are startling: Six rodents who were given antiviral medication in their noses in advance were completely protected from infection for 24 hours. The six animals were infected that did not receive the drug.
“In addition to vaccines and drugs, this drug offers a completely different angle to fighting the epidemic,” said lead investigator Rick de Swart, a virologist at Erasmus MC. The biggest problem at the moment is that the virus continues to spread despite strict measures. By using an antivirus like this you can prevent the virus from spreading in a different way. “
The active substance in the experimental agent is a lipopeptide. The central “lipo” portion of the molecule acts like the tail that attaches to the cell membrane of surface cells in the airways. These are also the target cells of the virus; The place where the infection can be blocked.
The actual action is done by two short protein strips (peptides) on both ends of the lipopeptide. They are waiting for the virus with open arms. The amino acid sequence in the peptides was chosen to perfectly match an important portion of the virus fusion protein. Once the activated virus particle gets close to the trapped arms, it is placed in a waiting position that sabotages the trick with which the virus is trying to enter the cell.
I am a researcher in measles
Rick de Swart Virus World
The virus uses a kind of molecular zipper in its prickly protein, with two halves that fit together perfectly. This allows it to move close to the host cell so that the cell membranes fuse on its own. The lipopeptide is designed to perfectly fit half of the cloud, causing it to become clogged. The virus is literally kept in place and cannot be combined with the cell.
“I’m actually a measles researcher,” says de Swart. He previously developed such a treatment for the measles virus with a group from Columbia University. This experience was very useful now, says de Swart: “Immediately after the outbreak of the epidemic, Americans asked if we also wanted to cooperate in developing similar drugs against Corona.”
Unlike a vaccine, protection for this antiviral agent is only temporary. Exactly how long it will last is still under investigation. In the first rodent trials, it worked for at least 24 hours, but the effect disappeared after three weeks.
It has also been shown that lipopeptide protects against disturbing variants of the Coronavirus in cell cultures, with mutations that may allow them to escape existing vaccines. De Swart: “The new variants all seemed to be sensitive, at least to this substance, and some seemed to be more sensitive.”
The team is also investigating whether treatment with a lipopeptide helps soon after the infection occurs. “Sometimes this works with other viral infections,” says de Swart. “With a new infection, the amount of virus in your body remains so low that you can prevent the virus from multiplying to the point that you are not getting sick. That way you can also prevent spreading to others.”
The need for anti-corona drugs is high. How quickly is this agent used in humans? De Swart doesn’t dare to predict: “We did basic research and now we’re hoping to find partners who can develop it further. This is still practical. But it could go quickly, as vaccine research showed. I mean, a year ago we didn’t think it could be possible.” We now have RNA vaccines that work properly and are supported. “
A copy of this article also appeared on NRC Handelsblad on February 20, 2021
A copy of this article also appeared on nrc.next on February 20, 2021