Emergency drugs that can help in the event of an outbreak of emerging viruses are as important as emergency vaccines. However, predicting specific newly emerging virus variants, influenza for example, is extremely challenging. DZIF researchers therefore aim to develop drugs that have broad-spectrum efficacy. Consequently, they have two strategies in place. The first strategy is to identify substances that target cellular factors or specific metabolic pathways that are used in a similar way by many different viruses for replication. The second strategy is to use viral factors as target sites for developing active agents that are conserved in as many different viruses as possible. A virus testing platform has already been created at the DZIF and is now available for the testing of antiviral agents. This platform includes a large spectrum of viruses which, according to the most up-to-date information available, bear the greatest potential of causing newly emerging viral infections. These include coronaviruses (e.g. MERS), filoviruses (e.g. Ebola), influenza viruses, enteroviruses, hantaviruses, Lassa viruses as well as flaviviruses (e.g. dengue or Zika).
From Inhibitor to Viral Target Sites
Researchers have already discovered a substance that is highly effective against different coronaviruses including MERS and SARS. It is a so-called cyclophilin antagonist which has been shown to have antiviral effects without weakening the host organism’s immune system. These cyp antagonists are quite promising and their viral efficacy is being investigated further by the DZIF. In addition, different cell metabolism inhibitors or highly conserved viral proteases are also being investigated. There is currently a project in place to conduct tests on favipiravir, a new drug for severe influenza in Japan which, however, causes cancer in mice. Scientists now intend to investigate whether these side effects can be minimised by changing the substance’s structure using medicinal chemistry methods.