A team of scientists at a British University believe they have made a ‘game-changing’ discovery in the fight against coronavirus.
Researchers at the University of Bristol have described their study as ‘ground-breaking’ and hope it could ‘stop the virus in its tracks’.
The team was headed by Prof Christiane Schaffitzel from Bristol’s School of Biochemistry, and Prof Imre Berger from the Max Planck Bristol Centre for Minimal Biology.
They discovered what they describe as a ‘druggable pocket’ on the virus’ surface, which could be injected with antiviral drugs to stop it working before it enters more human cells.
They discovered that coronavirus uses a small molecule called linoleic acid (LA) to bind itself together and spread.
As a result the team believe there is now a way to disrupt that binding fat, and potentially render the virus not infectious.
Professor Berger said: “We were truly puzzled by our discovery, and its implications.
“So here we have LA, a molecule which is at the centre of those functions that go haywire in COVID-19 patients, with terrible consequences.
“And the virus that is causing all this chaos, according to our data, grabs and holds on to exactly this molecule – basically disarming much of the body’s defences.
“Our discovery provides the first direct link between LA, COVID-19 pathological manifestations and the virus itself.
“The question now is how to turn this new knowledge against the virus itself and defeat the pandemic.”
Prof Schaffitzel said there was reason for hope – scientists discovered a similar pocket in rhinovirus, and were able to stop that virus being infectious.
She said the Bristol team are optimistic that a similar strategy can now be pursued to develop small molecule anti-viral drugs against SARS CoV-2.
“From other diseases we know that tinkering with LA metabolic pathways can trigger systemic inflammation, acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia.
“If we look at HIV, after 30 years of research what worked in the end is a cocktail of small molecule anti-viral drugs that keeps the virus at bay.
“Our discovery of a druggable pocket within the SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein could lead to new anti-viral drugs to shut down and eliminate the virus before it entered human cells, stopping it firmly in its tracks,” she added.