Contributed by Guest Blogger: M. Carraher ’14
A former leader of the Pentagon considers, “Mother Nature among the worst terrorists.” Throughout modern time, the threat of a virus pandemic has seemed more likely, and more deadly than a nuclear war. Swine flu, HIV, and SARS have all frightened average citizens and leading microbiologists into a frenzy. The biggest threats have been the viruses that were least expected. If you don’t see them coming, how can you protect against a deadly outbreak? The general strategy for antivirals is “one bug, one drug”. However, any small mutation of the virus might render the drug useless. Research is currently being poured into developments of a broader range of antivirals. The current hypothesis is that certain proteins inside cells are vital for virus replication. But what if those cellular proteins aren’t necessarily vital for host life? A promising target is the TSG101 protein, which is involved in the transport of viruses out of a cell. A small-molecule drug has been developed to inhibit that interaction between the protein and virus. Researchers have identified more than 30 viruses that rely on this protein, so the drug does protect over a broader range infections. One hundred percent of Ebola-infected mice survive if exposed to the drug, a day after infection. Eighty percent survive if treated two days post infection, and 40% live four days after infection. The early test results seem promising for a strong, broad ranged antiviral drug, that does not hurt the host.
The most promising broad spectrum antiviral targets the host instead of the virus. Healthy cell membranes express a substance called phosphatidylserine on their inner surfaces. When under stress from a viral infection, this substance ends up on the outer surface. All viral infections seem to exhibit this behavior, making it a key target for drugs. An antibody called bavituximab has been developed, which binds to the phosphatidylserine. Once bound, the immune system should clearly recognize the infected cell and destroy, thus limiting viral replication. This method was tested on guinea pigs exposed to a Pichinde virus. Half the animals treated with bavituximab survived, compared 100% death for the control group, not injected with the antibody.
The antibody is currently being tested for a broader range of viruses, such as HIV, hepatitis, and influenza. So far, all infected cells express this molecule on the outside of their membranes, as compared to healthy cells, which maintain the molecule within the cell. This antibody could potentially protect against all known viruses, and some unknown as well, considering all viruses are believed to exhibit this behavior. However, viruses do evolve. Could they evolve to become immune to the antibody at some point? Further testing with humans is also needed to determine any potential side-effects. But, this is one step closer to a universal antiviral.