New synthetic molecule kills influenza virus safely for humans

Scientists at EPFL (Federal Polytechnic School of Lausanne) have developed a synthetic molecule capable of killing the virus that causes the flu. They hope their discovery will lead to an effective treatment for the infection.

Influenza is one of the most common viral diseases and a serious public health problem. For some, the disease is harmless; for others, it leads to hospitalization or, in the most severe cases, death. Scientists at the EPFL Supramolecular Nanomaterials and Interfaces Laboratory (SuNMIL), working in collaboration with scientists at the University of Geneva, have synthesized a compound that can kill the virus that causes influenza. Their discovery paves the way for effective drugs for seasonal illness. The research is published in Advanced Science.

Developing a cure for the flu is not an easy task. The virus mutates, and the medicine must be harmless to the human body. “The chances of surviving the flu are high, so any medicine should have little or no side effects. Otherwise, it shouldn’t be accepted, ”says Francesco Stellacci, EPFL professor who leads SuNMIL.

The flu virus attaches to the cell membrane to infect the human body. It then separates and continues to infect other cells. Existing antiviral drugs work by attacking the virus inside the host cell and temporarily blocking viral replication. EPFL scientists have taken a new approach to their antiviral compound to make it effective against influenza and non-toxic. They developed a modified sugar molecule that mimics the cell membrane, causing the influenza virus to attach to it. “Once the virus attaches, our molecule exerts local pressure and destroys it. And this mechanism is irreversible, ”explains Stellacci.

Because this process takes place outside the body cells, this synthetic compound shows constant efficacy for the first 24 hours after infection, according to tests carried out in mice. In humans, the effectiveness of a compound can last over 36 hours. The compound developed by EPFL can create broad-spectrum antiviral drugs, that is, drugs that act against many different types of influenza viruses. This study focuses primarily on seasonal flu and does not address the treatment of COVID-19.

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