Over the past decades, we have experienced several viral outbreaks, such the Swine flu, Ebola, Zika, and now most recently, COVID-19. Viral outbreaks will undoubtedly continue to occur, and it is not unlikely that future outbreaks may come from either unknown or understudied viruses. As vaccines often take years to develop, a different approach may be needed to prepare and respond to future outbreaks and pandemics.
One approach to address this challenge is to develop broad spectrum antiviral drugs, i.e. drugs that not only work against one single virus, but which efficiently target a wide range of viruses, including those that are still unknown to us. An example of such a class of viruses is so-called enveloped viruses. This category, where we find both Zika and the SARS-CoV-2, share an essential structural feature, namely a lipid membrane-coating which surrounds the virus particles.
In Prof Nam-Joon Cho’s lab, at Nanyang technological university in Singapore, they have taken advantage of this joint feature of enveloped viruses and used it for broad-spectrum antiviral targeting. The broad-spectrum antiviral approach that they have developed, the LEAD-strategy (Lipid Envelope Viral Disruption), targets the virus coating lipid membrane.
Listen to Prof. Cho as he describes how the LEAD-strategy works, how it was developed, and how he and his team work with platform design and surface-based technologies to identify drug candidates targeting both existing and yet unknown viruses.