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Scientists Find Significant Vulnerability In Major Human Viruses That Could Exploited

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An illustration of a molecule drug in a pocket on a picornavirus. Researchers found a new pocket in a broad class of viruses that cause some of common infections that afflict humans. This might lead to the development of new antiviral drugs.   ( James Geraets )

Researchers from Europe have discovered a vulnerability in a certain class of virus that can pave the way for the development of new antiviral treatment.

A team from the University of Leuven, the University of Leuven, and the Birla Institute of Technology discussed in a new study a compound that can prevent picornaviruses from infecting cells.

Picornaviruses, a broad class of viruses, include rhinoviruses, which cause upper respiratory infections such as the common cold, and enteroviruses, bugs that are responsible for infections like meningitis, encephalitis, and polio. There are currently no antivirals that can prevent or treat rhinoviruses and enteroviruses.

New Vulnerability In Human Viruses Found

To find potential antiviral candidates, researchers discovered a compound that can stabilize a model picornavirus and, therefore, prevent them from replicating. The team also used cryo-electron microscopy, which combined thousands of two-dimensional images to create a three-dimensional model of the target, to determine how the compounds affected the viruses.

The study, which was published on Tuesday, June 11, in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, explained that the compound lodged itself in a pocket or an indentation that has never been identified before. Picornaviruses have been studied for decades, the researchers noted, but this is the first time that the vulnerability was discovered.

Once the compound has lodged itself into the previously-unknown indentation, the virus loses the ability to change itself into a shape that can allow it to interact with its host cell. It can no longer replicate itself and cause an infection.

The researchers used their discovery and created multiple variants of the antiviral molecule that could inhibit picornaviruses.

New Antivirals In The Age Of Drug-Resistant Pathogens

"These results open up a new avenue for the design of broad-spectrum antivirals against rhinoviruses and enteroviruses, both of which are major human pathogens," stated Johan Neyts of the University of Leuven and one of the authors of the study, in a press release.

The researchers, however, said that the viruses could eventually evolve and become resistant to this new class of drugs, just like they did with the old ones. They suggested that while the viruses might mutate, the pocket might be crucial enough to the process of replication. The mutant versions of these viruses might become less viable in other ways, therefore, making the new drug "resistance-proof."

The team is still working on developing the compounds into effective drugs for infections caused by rhinoviruses and enteroviruses.

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