HKU researchers discover breakthrough antiviral chemical

January 11, 2019 16:07
A team of scientists led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung (inset) and Dr Yuan Shuofeng (center) of the Department of Microbiology of HKU's medical faculty announce their findings on Thursday. Photo: HKEJ/HKU

A team of scientists from the Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong said they have found a chemical substance that can be used to produce drugs against outbreaks of infectious diseases.

The compound, called AM580, has been proved effective in fighting viruses that cause these diseases, including coronaviruses of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), avian influenza viruses, and Zika.

The researchers, led by Professor Yuen Kwok-yung and Dr. Yuan Shuofeng of the Department of Microbiology, began their research in 2003 after the SARS outbreak with the aim of finding a way to stop the virus from replicating itself inside the host's body, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

They discovered that when humans are infected by a virus, a covering called double membrane vesicles forms on human cells, where the virus replicates itself.

So they decided that if they could stop this mechanism, the viruses would be prevented from growing in massive amounts.

A chemical derivative of AM580, tamibarotene, was found effective in preventing the formation of this mechanism and keeping the viruses from proliferating.

According to the team, experiments performed on mice showed the extraordinary ability of AM580 to fight viruses, except the HIV virus.

Yuen said a new drug containing AM580 would have a broader spectrum and have fewer side effects than current drugs which target a specific virus or a small number of viruses, adding that clinical trials will be conducted in the next stage.

Such a drug could be launched in the market as soon as five years from now.

Yuen said his team has filed for a US patent for its findings, which have been published in Nature Communications, a leading scientific journal.

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