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UK: Drug Development Is Sugar the Secret Weapon Against Viral Infections?

| Editor: Alexander Stark

An international team of scientists has developed new antiviral materials made from sugar to destroy viruses on contact and may help in the fight against viral outbreaks.

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New antiviral materials made from sugar have been developed to destroy viruses on contact and may help in the fight against viral outbreaks.
New antiviral materials made from sugar have been developed to destroy viruses on contact and may help in the fight against viral outbreaks.
(Source: University of Manchester )

Manchester/UK — A new development from a collaborative team of international scientists 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 — including respiratory infections to genital herpes. Although at a very early stage of development, the broad spectrum activity of this new approach could also be effective against newly prevalent viral diseases such as the recent coronavirus outbreak.

So called ‘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 advent of a new type of antiviral drug, which destroys viruses yet is 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 showed that the outer shell of a virus can be disrupted, thereby destroying the infectious particles on contact, as oppose to simply restricting its growth. This new approach has also been shown to defend against drug resistance.

The scientists have successfully engineered a new molecule, which is a modified sugar that shows broad-spectrum antiviral properties. The antiviral mechanism is virucidal meaning that viruses struggle to develop resistance. 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.

Publishing their work in the journal Science Advances the team showed that they 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.

The paper, Modified Cyclodextrins as Broad-spectrum Antivirals, by Jones et al is published in Science Advances.

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