Scientists have identified a molecule He loves it. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes it Covid-19. It loves it so much that it “hugs” it, practically to death—it binds so tightly to the virus that it cannot infect our cells.

The discovery of this molecule called “HR2 peptide” is a big deal. It may be the basis of a new antiviral drug. Not only on but should work Seasonal of Novel corona virusBut in the future Alternatives, too.

But there is a problem. Identifying a molecule in academic research is one thing. It is another to create medicine Established on that molecule. Axel Brunger, an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Maryland and one of the study’s authors, told The Daily Beast that “the academy is not very well-suited to marketing campuses.”

The HR2 peptide is promising, but a long way from providing a new treatment. And resources for new covid drugs are dwindling by the day.

The idea of ​​deploying a peptide, a chain of amino acids, to bind the coronavirus is not new. Previous studies have investigated various peptides for use in covid treatments, but with mediocre results.

The genius of the new study, which involved researchers from Harvard, Stanford, the University of Helsinki and other institutions, lies in peptide design. Basically, the team engineered the peptide to lengthen the acid chain. “This is a slightly longer version of the peptide,” Brunger explained.

That seems to have done the trick. Adding a few “residues” to the amino acid chain made the peptide a hundred times more effective as an antiviral than shorter peptides. “Our results suggest that a simple peptide with a suitable sequence may be a powerful and cost-effective treatment,” the team wrote in a peer-reviewed study. Appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday.

Here’s how it works: The peptide coats the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the spike proteins it uses to capture the pathogen and infect our cells. In particular, the chain of amino acids interferes with the infection stage, where a virus circulates through the membrane of our cells.

The scientists tested the peptide against all major strains of the novel coronavirus — delta, omicron, various omicron sub-variants — and the results were the same across the board. “The peptide … strongly inhibits all major SARS-CoV-2 variants to date,” they wrote.

Microbiologists with AGIS Sciences Corporation conduct tests for Covid-19 and monkeypox in Nashville, Tennessee, Aug. 4, 2022.

Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty

This in itself is encouraging. Also, as SARS-CoV-2 evolves, some drugs and vaccines are also losing their effectiveness; Stack on mutation The virus started to become undetectable to old treatments and antibodies.

It’s a particular problem with monoclonal antibodies, the oldest of the covid therapies. There are several monoclonal formulations. But only one, bebtelovimab, It still works well Along with the BA.5, the currently dominant Omicron sub-variant worldwide.

In the next major set of viral mutations, monoclonals do nothing. “There is a particularly urgent need for alternative antivirals that target processes that are less likely to be affected by mutations,” the team behind Peptide Discovery wrote.

Brugger explained that the trap of reducing peptide effectiveness should be avoided. Many current treatments involve spike protein before The virus tries to get into our cells, the peptide binds in the later stage, the “membrane fusion” that comes before the infection.

“The virus generally doesn’t change much in the region covered by the peptide,” Brugger said. This is a widely used anti-virus compound. A drug designed around the new peptide should work equally well against current and future strains of Covid.

Unless of course the virus surprises us.

The science behind the peptide discovery is sound, Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metric sciences at the Washington Health Institute who was not involved in the study, told The Daily Beast. “This is very promising and a good sign of how fast science is moving.” The same peptide could have applications for diseases besides Covid, Mokdad added.

Brugger said he thinks the best application for a person’s Covid therapy is in the form of inhalation. Scientists and pharmaceutical developers are increasingly developing drugs and vaccines that are inhaled into the throat and lungs as they look for quick and lasting results that start where Covid started.

But the team that discovered the peptide is in no position to turn it into a drug. “We hope that a company will build on our research results and work towards clinical trials,” Brugger said.

Don’t hold your breath. “The challenge is that it takes time from discovery to implementation and sometimes adoption by the public and other scientists,” Mokdad explained. All of that is time-consuming work. dearas well as. Large trials alone cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Medicines are developed and approved more quickly when there is strong government support behind them. Tens of billions of dollars from the U.S. government and other wealthy nations have helped speed the development of Covid treatments and vaccines, from scientific journals to laboratories to clinics and pharmacies.

But that support has been reduced by the majority of the population and many of their leaders due to Covid. “One of the things that we’ve spent a lot of time thinking about over the last several months… is getting out of the acute emergency where the US government buys the vaccines, buys the treatments, buys the diagnostic tests. Jha, the White House’s covid-response coordinator; He said last month.

Two years ago, a new peptide-based drug might have been a no-brainer. Today is heavy lifting. If a company takes strong interest, a peptide treatment can go before federal regulators in a year or two. But this promising new molecule could get stuck in science journals where it won’t help anyone.

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