A whole new approach to anti-viral drugs which could prevent all strains of influenza is being investigated after a two-year Marie Curie fellowship scholarship was awarded to Yulia Sergeeva, who will be carrying out her research at Malmö University.

Along with Börje Sellergren, who is coordinating the project, Sergeeva will be based at Biofilms - Research Center for Biointerfaces. It is hoped that the research results could also further fight against other viruses such as Ebola and Zika.

“We are focussing on the influenza virus — this is our first target — but then we can extend this approach for other viruses. The problem is that there is no ‘solid’ vaccine for the influenza virus, so treatments change every year and they are not as efficient as they should be.

It is a very promising approach because you are not killing the virus but instead preventing it from interacting with the cell.

Yulia Sergeeva

“The drugs that we have now fight the virus when a person is already infected and then try to stop it reproducing itself. With our approach we are looking at how the virus interacts with the cell, before entering the cell, before the infection even takes place.”

On the cell surface there are what are known as ligands which contain sialic acid. There is a protein on the virus surface and this protein in

teracts with the sialic acid residue on the cell surface and this is how the first contact happens.

“What we want to do is to interrupt this contact. We want to create a surface which will also contain sialic acids which will bind the virus and prevent the virus from binding to the cell.

“It is a very promising approach because you are not killing the virus but instead preventing it from interacting with the cell — you are cutting the process from the beginning. This would be effective on every virus, every year the virus can have different protein on the surface, but it will always interact with the cell in the same way,” Sergeeva said.

It is proposed the new alternative approach will allow an easy access to 2D and 3D multivalent surfaces by constructing reversible self-assemble monolayers (rSAMs) using easily accessible small ligands. These rSAMs will mimic the complex multivalent carbohydrate arrays present on the cellular surfaces.

This will impact antiviral drug design and boost the development of new effective and easy accessible antiviral drug candidates.

Text: Adrian Grist