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New antiviral drug could cure nearly any viral infection – including the common cold


August 10, 2011

In this set of four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right) - (Image: MIT)

In this set of four photos, dengue hemorrhagic fever virus kills untreated monkey cells (lower left), whereas DRACO has no toxicity in uninfected cells (upper right) and cures an infected cell population (lower right) - (Image: MIT)

While not delivering a knockout blow, the discovery of penicillin in 1928 provided a potent weapon in the fight against a wide range of bacterial infections. The quest to develop a similarly broad-spectrum drug to fight viral infections has proven more difficult but now researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory have designed a drug that has so far proven effective against all 15 viruses it has been tested on. These include rhinoviruses that cause the common cold, H1N1 influenza, a stomach virus, a polio virus, dengue fever and several other types of hemorrhagic fever.

While there are a number drugs that are effective against specific viruses, such as the protease inhibitors used to control HIV infection, they are relatively rare and susceptible to viral resistance. In a development that could change the way viral infections are treated, the MIT researchers have designed a drug that can identify cells that have been infected not just by a specific virus, but by any virus, then kill those cells to terminate the infection.

When viruses infect a cell, they hijack its cellular machinery to create more copies of the virus, which then infect other cells, and so on. During this replication process, the viruses create long strings of double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), which isn't found in human or other animal cells. While human cells have proteins that latch onto dsRNA, which sets off a cascade of reactions that prevents the virus from replicating, many viruses are able to circumvent this by blocking one of the steps further down the cascade.

To get around this problem, Todd Rider, a senior staff scientist in Lincoln Laboratory's Chemical, Biological, and Nanoscale Technologies Group, had the idea of combining a dsRNA-binding protein with another protein that causes cells to undergo programmed cell suicide - a process called apoptosis.

The therapeutic agents devised by Rider are dubbed DRACOs (Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizers). When one end of the DRACO binds to dsRNA, it signals the other end to initiate cell suicide. However, if it enters a cell and finds no dsRNA present, it leaves the cell unharmed. Because each DRACO also includes a "delivery tag," taken from naturally occurring proteins, it is able to cross cell membranes and enter any human or animal cell.

In addition to testing DRACO in human and animal cells cultured in the lab, the MIT team has also tested it in mice infected with the H1N1 influenza virus. Treated mice were completely cured of the infection and DRACO itself was shown to be not toxic to the mice. The team is now testing DRACO against more viruses in mice and reports promising results. Rider says he hopes to license the technology for trials in larger animals with his sights on eventual human clinical trials.

The MIT team's research appears in a paper published on July 27 in the journal PLoS One.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

kick ass!

Terry Hope

Uhhhh Holy Cow! What if we cure HIV? Anyone else find it the name a little eerie?

Facebook User

bet there will be a 10 year trial before we see this on shelves or pharmacies


and if it works.. I bet it\'ll never see the light of day. small group wants to save the world. Big business will kill it.

Matthew Green

The cure for the Flu and Cold, and viruses is very simple, it is called Nasal B-12, which is basically Nasal Cobalt. Just go to www.popsci.com/node/22953 It destroys the viruses ON CONTACT!

To destroy the Flu and Cold Virus, you have to do it through the nose, as the cells that line the respiratory tract are not basically bathed in the blood stream. Maybe now that is why Tamiflu is now doing there vaccines up the nose.

Facebook User

Works great in tissue culture! But these MIT profs are dreamers not pragmatic scientists if they believe that their discovery will cure all human viral diseases. Their drug would enter the billions of cells in our bodies and then seeks out the ones carrying a specific marker, or in their words \"because each DRACO also includes a \"delivery tag,\" taken from naturally occurring proteins, it is able to cross cell membranes and enter ANY human or animal cell.\" Imagine how big a dose that would take of a presumably extremely costly Rx? It\'s a lab curiosity at best and maybe a cure in small animals. Cost effective therapy requires highly specific drugs taken at low doses that target the diseased cells selectively without uptake by normal cells. HR, Biotech consultant


This guy and his team are going to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this.


This sounds terrific. One question that comes to this mind: since this is described as disabling all viruses, do we need to be concerned with it disabling viruses that are helpful to us? I don\'t know that there are any, but I know that there are countless helpful bacteria working in us. If there are helpful viruses as well, there could be serious unintentional effects with disabling these.

Loving It All

Loving, I don\'t know of any helpful viruses. Viruses aren\'t even really alive - all they are is an outer sheath and some genetic material inside. They don\'t move, grow, eat, etc. They latch on to a host cell, their genetic code slips in, the host cell is then reprogrammed with it to make more viruses. Sometimes the new viruses are able to exit the host cell, but in most cases they can\'t and the host cell eventually ruptures, spewing out more viruses. And that\'s all there is to a virus - not very helpful. :-) That said, we have been looking into ways to use viruses for gene therapy to replace defective human DNA with a repaired copy.

But my biggest worry is this - this treatment employs the cell suicide trigger against the infected cell. What if viruses evolve to block all forms of cell suicide or even death... or aging, and we get the \"T-Virus\" from the Resident Evil games/movies that ends up turning us all into zombies? :-) :-) :-)


@rutnerh - You wrote: \"But these MIT profs are dreamers not pragmatic scientists if they believe that their discovery will cure all human viral diseases.\"

I didn\'t read anywhere in the article that the are making any such claim. If that was implied at all, it was implied by the author of the article.

You wrote: \"Imagine how big a dose that would take of a presumably extremely costly Rx?\"

Basically any size dose; the more the better as, so far, it has proven non-toxic. You seem to not understand completely what is meant by:

\"However, if it enters a cell and finds no dsRNA present, it leaves the cell unharmed.\"

When it leaves one cell, a DRACO is free to enter another, then another, then another, then another cell to repeat the process. Therefore, the size of the dose only determines how fast cells are examined; the more DRACOs within a given period of time, the faster the detection and eradication of infected cells.


Like Dr. Burzynski, Big Pharma and its allies in the FDA, AMA and the Patent Office will do anything to either steal or shut down this research. That said, MIT is turning out to be the font, pushing the edge of the envelope everywhere: Photosynthesis, nano technology, you name it.


\" If there are helpful viruses as well, there could be serious unintentional effects with disabling these.\" Actually, you are completely right (notwithstanding other remarks): the \"ecology\" of viruses is very unclear to say the least (similarly to the bacteria...only possibly more puzzling). You do not have \"harmful\" and \"good\" bacteria...just a long continuum with multiple synergies and tangled relationships. What I very long time ago as then a student of virology only speculated about: that there would be a theoretical possibility of evolution driven by viruses as vectors of genetic information (based on the back then new knowledge of retro-RNA...looong time ago indeed) happens to be a FACT. (I am today not in the know but this tidbit of information filtered even to me). SO yes...you are absolutely right...it is not so simple. As with everything it is a give and take. But instead of dying/suffering terribly from some out of hand infection you are still more likely to do the shortsighted cost-benefit analysis and pop the pill/(equals antibiotic today...and if the profs take it to the market, this miracle above). ..As with penicillin this one would definitely deserve the highest recognition/reward too.


What a minute, isn\'t this the way \"I Am Legend\" started as a cure for something. I know it was cancer, it is just more dramatic this way. All kidding aside.

I hope it will take years of clinical trials before they decide to release the drug. The safer the better as far as I am concerned. The person taking the drug is someone\'s father, mother, son, and daughter. Everyone is a potential user of that drug since everyone gets a cold or sick due to these type of viruses. Once you get into gene modification it gets kind of tricky since it is difficult to predict the reaction of DRACO beyond a lab environment. For example, what happens if the virus mutates, so how some way, and we get unexpected results such as sterilization or birth defects. It could be years before you determie that the problem is the drug.

Beside, we all know that a meteor is going to hit the earth and destroy it just like the dinosaurs. Just kidding again.

I am


There is another potential groundbreaking drug for HIV stalled in clinical trials. Its called KP 1461 by Koronis Pharmaceuticals. Its supposed to work by speeding up the mutation rate of HIV to try to get the virus to mutate itself out of existence. Its stalled in phase II clinical trials but the company is seeking approx 20 million in funding to try to restart trials.

Steve Roth

Just what the world needs another way to stop people from dying as nature intended. We already have exceed the sustainable number of people the planet can sustain and when that happens it has a drastic and negative affect on the sustainable level that the plannet can support.

So well done and thanks for all the fish... oh that\'s right we have drastically overfished the worlds oceans so I suppose we won\'t be having fish on the menu for too much longer.

When we work against nature we fail to see that we are really not doing ourselves any long term favours.


Foxy1968... many of the viruses they speak of don\'t actually kill people, they just disable us or make us miserable... few people die of the common cold and flu, but they sure are unhappy and inefficient. Perhaps you think that people disabled by polio eat less fish? Perhaps we should stop wearing seatbelts, put more DDT into the environment, start smoking en masse etc... all these other things that we do to stop suffering and death? Look on the bright side: without the common cold, wayyy fewer chickens will be tortured in factory farms to produce chicken soup. And look to sustainable food production (most of the problems with overfishing are curable, ie they don\'t need to catch and dump every unwanted species while \"efficiently\" delivering 99cent cans of tuna to us...

Leanne Franson

@Steve - I was also interested in KP 1461 when it first came out, but the part where the developers want $20 million to finish clinical trials is where the wheels came off of the car. By comparison, Azacytidine has been around for forty years, and has the same effect as KP 1461 does on HIV ("lethal mutagenesis"), as researched by Dr. Louis Mansky's lab. It's much easier to "reposition" a known (approved) drug like Azacytidine to treat / cure HIV than to push something brand new through the door like KP 1461. Although not KP 1461's fault for being "new", going with azacytidine as a potential HIV treatment is a no brainer, since it doesn't require as much approval, nor has some vague $20 million dollar ransom.

Woogy Lewis

Viruses can be ancillary to ones immune system. Indeed, killing all the viruses in ones body would be as problematic as killing all the bacteria in ones body. Check out the below article discussing the immune system working with viruses as an example. It shows that viruses stud the mucus in the lungs while sticking their "legs" out of the mucus. The legs of the virus attach to bacteria and eat the bacteria. The bacteria would have otherwise infected the body. The complicated ecosystem that we call our body actually benefits from certain viruses, it seems.

Virotherapy might later be a recognized part of a persons health regime, along with probiotics, balanced nutrition, exercise, and mental wellness.


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