‘Game-changer’ antiviral sugar materials could be used against coronavirus

30 Jan 2020

Image: © vipman4/Stock.adobe.com

The fight against the coronavirus epidemic, and other viral outbreaks, could be aided with new materials made from sugar.

An international research team has developed new materials that show significant promise in the fight against viral outbreaks. The material, made from sugar, shows significant promise as a ‘virucidal’ substance that could be used to limit the spread of viruses such as the current Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

It could also be used for the treatment of cold sores, respiratory syncytial virus, hepatitis C, HIV and the Zika virus.

Virucidal substances – such as bleach – typically destroy viruses on contact, but are extremely toxic to humans, meaning they can’t be applied to the body. Using sugar, however, it is possible to create a new type of antiviral drug that can destroy viruses with no damaging effects for 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.

Publishing its findings to Science Advances, the UK and Swiss team said it used modified sugar molecules – called cyclodextrins – to disrupt the outer shell of a virus, thereby destroying its infectious particles.

A before and after comparison image of a virus shrunken in size after exposure to the molecule.

Virucide treatment before after. Image: The University of Manchester

‘Potential to be a game changer’

“The antiviral mechanism is virucidal meaning that viruses struggle to develop resistance,” said Dr Samuel Jones from the University of Manchester.

“As this is a new type of antiviral and one of the first to ever show broad-spectrum efficacy, it has potential to be a game changer in treating viral infections.”

The breakthrough molecule is already patented by a company and, following further testing, it could find a use in creams, ointments and nasal sprays or other similar treatments for viral infections.

The news comes after an Australian research team announced it has recreated the Wuhan coronavirus in a lab, which could pave the way for the development of a vaccine against the deadly illness.

The Doherty Institute’s Virus Identification Laboratory head, Dr Julian Druce, called the development a “game changer”. The virus, which is believed to have emanated from the city in Hubei province, has killed around 170 and infected more than 7,000 people around the world.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic