Researchers refuse to regard these evils associated with winter as inevitable. In a few years, we may be able to escape Colds and flu.
A cold may be a mild problem, but it can cause discomfort, fatigue and general weakness for several days. As for the seasonal flu, it does real damage. Depending on its virulence, it affects two to eight million people in the world per year. In 2018, it took 65,000 people to the emergency room and fatally struck 9,000.
These two diseases have one thing in common: they originate from RNA respiratory viruses, infectious agents that are constantly changing. So much so that, when they exist, vaccines are not completely effective even if they remain the best of our defenses. Researchers, however, are not throwing in the towel and are exploring several new approaches.
Viruses prevented from mutating
Teams from Belgian and Finnish universities are studying picornaviruses, a very large family of enteroviruses (responsible for respiratory diseases, angina, heart disease, meningitis, etc.) and rhinoviruses (notably the cause of colds). By dint of scrutinizing them very, very closely, they identified on their surface a common point: a kind of withdrawal that seems crucial for their entry and their replication in our cells.
Scientists then imagined introducing into this small pocket a compound capable of preventing the virus from changing shape. However, it is thanks to his regular mutations that he escapes existing vaccines. It remains to verify that the picornaviruses will not find a new solution.
Protection against contamination
Last September, an American team announced another discovery in the famous scientific journal Nature, concerning the enterovirus responsible for colds. Instead of attacking it directly, the researchers focused on the human cells in which the virus multiplies and replicates. Without them, it cannot produce new infectious particles.
The Americans thus identified a cellular protein necessary for the infection and managed to inactivate it by suppressing one of its genes, baptized SETD3. When tested on mice, their cunning seems to work: rodents lacking the SETD3 gene resist contamination.
The only (big) problem: experience has shown that this famous gene is also essential for certain muscle contractions.”Now, the crucial question is whether it is possible or not to inhibit STED3 in virus replication without affecting the normal physiological function, recognizes Professor Raul Andino (University of California).
Otherwise, it could lead to unacceptable toxicity in humans. ” To succeed, scientists imagine creating a drug that would deactivate the SETD3 gene only if the virus approaches it. Until they get there (maybe), we’ll still have to stock up on tissues!
A universal flu vaccine
For some, it is a pure utopia, for others, a path of research. The idea is simple: protecting yourself from the dreaded seasonal flu viruses (or influenza) that are constantly changing requires a multifaceted, broad-spectrum vaccine capable of responding to each mutation. Several teams hope to develop such a champion.
Lately, Americans have been inspired by a nanoparticle formed of two types of antibodies. Tested in animals, this compound triggers an immune response ten to thirty times greater than that of a conventional vaccine, but it is not yet optimal.
Another team is seeking to target the base of one of the surface proteins of viruses, considered to be less variable. This time, they are using a duo of vaccines. First, they inject an effective vaccine against the 1999 virus, which activates the immune system.
Then a second flu vaccine from 2006-2007 which restores the immune system. This technique has given encouraging results in mice. Their bodies have been able to fight strains of viruses different from those of the vaccines used. But many obstacles remain and it will still take many years to hope for application in humans.
Bingo! Diltiazem, an antihypertensive agent that has been used for many years, has been shown to have exactly the right profile. Pre-clinical testing has started on human cells in vitro and mice. Not only does the diltiazem molecule limit the multiplication of influenza viruses, but at the same time, it decreases their ability to mutate.
As the dosage of this treatment is well known, the researchers were able to organize a clinical trial in humans very quickly. They have combined diltiazem with Tamiflu, a classic antiviral commonly used to fight influenza viruses. This novel combination could prove to be extremely effective.
The researchers are talking to the World Health Organization to promote this innovative treatment which, as a bonus, is not very expensive and only requires five days of taking. They created the start-up Signa Therapeutics, responsible for developing the product. They are banking on marketing within two to three years.