Wed, Jan 16, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Scientists claim antiviral breakthrough

AFP, HONG KONG

Hong Kong scientists claim that they have made a potential breakthrough discovery in the fight against infectious diseases — a chemical that could slow the spread of deadly viral illnesses.

A team from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) described the newly discovered chemical as “highly potent in interrupting the life cycle of diverse viruses” in a study published this month in the journal Nature Communications.

It could one day be used as a broad-spectrum antiviral for a host of infectious diseases — and even for viruses that have yet to emerge — if it passes clinical trials, the scientists said on Monday.

The spread in the past few decades of sometimes deadly bird flu strains, the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have underscored the need for new drugs that can work more quickly than vaccines.

Broad-spectrum antivirals are seen as the Holy Grail, because they can be used against multiple pathogens.

In contrast, vaccines usually only protect against one strain, and by the time they are produced, the virus could have mutated.

The HKU team tested their AM580 chemical on mice in a two-year study and found that it stopped the replication of a host of flu strains — including H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9 — as well as the viruses that cause SARS and MERS.

It also stopped the replication of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and Enterovirus 71, which causes hand, foot and mouth disease.

“This is what we call a broad-spectrum antiviral drug, which means it can kill a number of viruses,” said microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, who led the team. “This is quite important in the early control of an epidemic.”

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