Scientists discover new technology breakthrough to fight viral diseases

IBM Research and Singapore's Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology announce new macromolecule with triple-play action to help fight virus infection and drug resistance

As one of medicine’s largest challenges, viral infections often escape vaccines because of their natural ability to mutate rapidly and develop drug resistance easily.

Many viruses, such as Zika, Ebola and dengue fever have grown into major global health epidemics with great human and economic toll. IBM Research and Singapore’s Institute of Bioengineering, Nanotechnology (IBN) have identified a new breakthrough macromolecule that could help to prevent deadly virus infections with a unique triple-play mechanism that can also help to prevent viral drug resistance.

The study exploits supramolecular chemistry — the study of large molecules designed with multiple features — to help combat viral infection. The research is believed to be a first of its kind in fighting viral diseases and IBM Watson, along with such experimental breakthroughs, could help further accelerate drug discovery.

The new macromolecule is composed of several specialised components to create a powerful triple-play action that helps to fight viral infection and replication while inhibiting drug resistance.

  • Attraction: one specialised component of the macromolecule enables strong hydrogen bonds with electrostatic interactions to attract the proteins on the virus surface — disabling viral ability to infect healthy cells
  • Prevention: mannose components of the macromolecule bind directly to healthy immune cell receptors to help fight viral infection and allow the free flow of these naturally protective cells
  • Neutralisation: another component of the macromolecule, known as basic amine groups, neutralise the pH inside the viral cell making it inhospitable for replication.

Additionally, the researchers aimed to design a very flexible macromolecule and surveyed a variety of representative viruses from various categories, including Ebola, dengue, Marburg, influenza, Chikungunya, Enterovirus 71 and herpes simplex. In early testing, scientists have seen no resistance. Also, by targeting both viral proteins and host-virus interactions, the antiviral macromolecule sidesteps the normal mutations that enable viruses to escape vaccines through the onset of resistance.

‘With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, achieving antiviral breakthroughs is even more important,’ said Dr James Hedrick, lead researcher, advanced organic materials, IBM Research. ‘We are excited about the possibilities that this novel approach represents and are looking to collaborate with universities and other organisations to identify new applications.’

‘Viral diseases continue to be one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality,’ said Dr Yi Yan Yang, Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore. ‘We have created an antiviral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations. It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use. This promising research advance represents years of hard work and collaboration with a global community of researchers.’