The Virofight Project
FIGHTING VIRAL INFECTIONS WITH ENGULFING NANO-SHELLS
Viral infections affect millions of people every year 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.
Instead of targeting virus-specific proteins or enzymes by small molecules as current antivirals do, the Virofight consortium will construct synthetic nano-shells that can specifically recognize and engulf entire viruses to efficiently neutralize the pathogen.
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 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.
The Virofight Consortium
The consortium brings together 6 partners from multiple fields (clinicians, fundamental scientists, scientific SMEs, exploitation and dissemination SME and management SME), representing 4 different countries.
Current anti-viral drugs
The Virofight concept
„Our mission is to develop and test prototypes of nano-shells that have the principal capacity to neutralize any given virus by engulfing them. We think this may lead to neutralization of the pathogen by occlusion. Different kinds of viruses could be fought using the same platform.”
Prof. Hendrik Dietz, Coordinator
Technical University of Munich
“Our concept of using neutralizing nano-shells as antiviral drugs may also help to prevent negative effects that may be elicited by antibodies used for virus neutralization.”
Prof. Ulrike Protzer, Virofight partner
Technical University of Munich
Project duration (months)
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In the last issue of "Fazination Forschung", the science magazine of the Technical University of Munich (TUM), Hendrik Dietz and the VIROFIGHT project was featured on how DNA capsules can capture viruses. The article gives insights from the first ideas to the...
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TOPIC 1: Viral infections
Viral infections represent a huge socio-economic burden to society. There are about 400 million dengue infections per year. About 370 million people are living with hepatitis infections worldwide. In 2013, viral hepatitis was the seventh leading cause of death worldwide. In 2015, approximately 1.34 million people died due to this condition globally. The economic burden of chronic hepatitis C might exceed $10 billion annually in the United States alone.
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 32 million lives so far. In 2018, 770 000 people died from HIV-related causes globally. There were approximately 38 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018 with 1.7 million people becoming newly infected in 2018 globally. Norovirus and rotavirus, even though perceived as causing merely an unpleasant diarrheal illness, are believed to cause approximately 300,000 deaths among children < 5 years worldwide. Adenoviruses are highly contagious non-enveloped viruses that cause a variety of human diseases ranging from gastroenteritis and common cold to severe infections of the eye or the lung. In immunosuppressed children and adolescents, infections may become life threatening. Due to their stable capsid structure, adenoviruses survive environment challenges and are e.g. found in 30-50% of fresh-water lakes in the alps. There is neither a vaccine available to prevent adenovirus infections nor any specific antiviral therapy.
The threat of global viral outbreaks is becoming acute due to climate changes and global migration with an urgent need for therapeutic platforms that could be deployed and made ready for therapeutic production in a short time. The latest example of such a global viral outbreak is the COVID-19 pandemic, with currently worldwide more than 15 million confirmed cases and more than 640 000 confirmed deaths reported by the WHO.
TOPIC 2: Current anti-viral drugs
Importantly, no treatment is available for the vast majority of viral diseases (~70% of all WHO listed viruses) and the antiviral drugs that do exist typically must be applied very early after infection to be effective. This is because conventional antiviral drugs are at risk to display cytotoxicity: if the virus load becomes too high, the medication is no longer effective at tolerable dosages. Here, we propose an entirely new approach to fighting viral infections, to help reduce the scale and sheer impact of viral infections and to address the problem of a lack of broadly applicable antiviral treatments and to help targeting newly emerging pathogens.
TOPIC 3: The Virofight concept
The radical vision of VIROFIGHT exploits recent advances in supramolecular chemistry, molecular nanoengineering, and virology led by the consortium to completely change our current thinking of antivirals: rather than targeting virus-specific proteins or enzymes by small molecules as current antivirals do, VIROFIGHT will engulf whole viruses with synthetic nano-shells to efficiently neutralize the pathogen. The mission of this project is to develop and test prototypes of engulfing nano-shells that have the principal capacity to neutralize any given virus. A new therapeutic solution that could fight different viruses using the same platform would represent a real breakthrough for antiviral medicine and could save many lives and costs to society.