HKU comes up with drug to fight six viruses

Local | Mandy Zheng 27 Aug 2020

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong say they have discovered a substance that can inhibit six types of respiratory viruses, including Covid-19 and the flu.

The team said P9R, a new kind of broad-spectrum antiviral peptide, can potentially be used to develop drugs targeting multiple viruses instead of a single one in the future.

A peptide is a short chain of amino acids, or a very short chain of protein. An antiviral peptide can block virus attachment or the entry of a virus into host cells.

Making drugs with substances like P9R could be a game-changing strategy to tackle the pandemic, said the research team.

The work was published in the international scientific journal Nature Communications on Tuesday.

Team member Zhao Hanjun said broad-spectrum antiviral drugs are particularly advantageous when it comes to rapid control of new emerging viruses like the novel SARS-Cov2 coronavirus that causes Covid.

This is because it usually takes about five to 10 years to develop a cure for a specific type of virus.

"Currently there is no specific drug for Covid-19," said Zhao, research assistant professor at HKU's microbiology department.

Compared to a specific antiviral, a broad-spectrum one is less likely to cause drug resistance in people, he said.

Several countries, including China, the United States and Britain are racing to develop treatments and vaccines for Covid-19, with some seeking to accelerate regulatory approvals.

Remdesivir, made by Gilead Sciences, was the first drug to get emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration in the United States for use on Covid-19 while dexamethasone was the first drug shown to reduce deaths from Covid.

The FDA also last week authorized the expanded use of convalescent blood plasma for patients.

Russia has announced the approval of the Sputnik V vaccine for Covid, despite worries that it was approved too quickly.

In Hong Kong, the government has joined an international vaccine distribution scheme called Covax Facility, jointly led by the World Health Organization and two other parties. This could secure vaccines for 20 percent of the SAR's population.


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