Scientists find new antiviral drug to treat COVID-19, flu, other viral infection

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In a new study from UMass Medical School, researchers found a novel antiviral compound capable of stimulating the innate immune system against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The compound, diamidobenzimidazole (diABZI-4), can protect animal models and human cells in the lab from SARS-CoV-2 infection.

These results show that diABZI-4 may be an effective antiviral drug against COVID-19. This is important for those who are immuno-compromised or have allergies. It could be delivered through an inhaler, can be a viable alternative for boosting the immune response.

Identifying antiviral therapies for SARS-CoV-2 is still desperately needed while vaccines continue to roll out worldwide.

Vaccines work by stimulating the adaptive immune system, which creates antibodies against diseases and viruses.

By taking a small piece of a virus that doesn’t cause infection, in the case of SARS-CoV-2 a part of the spike protein that latches onto and infects epithelial cells, scientists can teach the adaptive immune system to recognize specific viral invaders.

The innate immune system, however, is more of a generalist. The innate immune system identifies any pathogen that it may encounter—whether it be bacterial, viral or fungal.

One of its chief functions is to produce cytokines that serve as the first line of defense, antiviral responder. It also alerts the immune system to the presence of the invader and triggers the adaptive immune system to wake up.

The intracellular protein STING is like an early alarm system for the immune system. Once it has been activated, it triggers the production of the cytokine interferon. This activity stimulates the adaptive immune system to fight off the infection.

A STING agonist, such as the new compound diABZI-4, could potentially serve a wake-up call to the immune system, giving it a boost to fight off pathogens before they get established.

The team believes that the immune-stimulating properties of diABZI-4 could also serve as an antiviral drug. It is already being tested as an immunotherapy for cancer.

By administering diABZI-4 intranasally, directly to the site of infection, they showed that it could activate the immune system and eliminate viral infection, such as SARS-CoV-2.

A single dose was able to protect 100% of the mice from severe COVID-19 disease. After taking diABZI-4, the mice were completely protected from infection.

Use of diABZI-4, which is stable at room temperature and can be produced relatively easily, maybe an important adjuvant for current vaccine treatments for COVID-19.

The team says people could potentially take this drug through an inhaler shortly after a potential exposure or even prophylactically before entering a high-risk environment such as an airplane.

They can have a short-lived antiviral boost to the immune system that would clear any virus before the infection is established.

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The study is published in Science Immunology. One author of the study is Katherine A. Fitzgerald, Ph.D.

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