Instead of targeting virus-specific proteins or enzymes by small molecules as done by current antivirals, researchers of the EU-funded VIROFIGHT project will develop nano-shells that are supposed to engulf and neutralize entire viruses. This novel approach has the potential to help fight multiple diseases such as COVID19, HIV infection, influenza and hepatitis B with one and the same approach.
Viral infections affect millions of people every year, have a significant death toll and cause tremendous human suffering and costs to society. For approximately 70% of all WHO listed viruses, no treatment is available and the antiviral drugs that do exist must be applied very early after infection to be effective. The current COVID-19 pandemic is only one such example. The VIROFIGHT consortium proposes a new approach to fight viral infections, to address the lack of broadly applicable antiviral treatments, and to create means for combating emerging pathogens.
“Our mission is to develop and test prototypes of nano-shells that have the principal capacity to neutralize any given virus by engulfing them”, says project coordinator Hendrik Dietz, professor of Biomolecular Nanotechnology at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Principal Investigator at TUM’s Munich School of BioEngineering. “We think this may lead to neutralization of the pathogen by occlusion. Different kinds of viruses could be fought using the same platform.” Virofight project partner Ulrike Protzer, professor of Virology at TUM and Director of the Institute of Virology, adds: “This may also help to prevent negative effects that may be elicited by antibodies used for virus neutralization.”
The biocompatible nano-shells developed by the researchers combine DNA origami, protein design and in-vitro evolution. Their interior will be coated with a layer of virus-specific molecules to exploit avidity effects for strong and specific virus binding. These binding effects will be tested at laboratory scale on a variety of viruses. To achieve this technological target, the interdisciplinary project integrates experts on supramolecular chemistry molecular nanoengineering, and virology.
VIROFIGHT is supported by a grant of 3.88 million Euro from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 funding programme. The project kicked-off on June 1st, 2020 and will run for four years.