A “pioneering” new study may pave the way for more treatments for Covid-19 variants and fresh coronaviruses in the future, scientists have suggested.
Research has provided “crucial new insights” into the life cycle of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, “revealing new pathways to target the virus within host cells”.
The team of scientists – led by the Universities of Glasgow and Oxford and the Rosalind Franklin Institute – studied the key viral RNA molecule which is “at the heart” of the life cycle of viruses like SARS-CoV-2.
“As we move into the next stage of the pandemic, developing treatment options that can work against new variants is a priority.”Dr Alfredo Castello
Researchers studied the SARS-CoV-2 RNA in lung epithelium cell lines using a “pioneering approach” to see how it interacted with different proteins.
The findings, published in the journal Molecular Cell, showed that the viral RNA interacted with dozens of cellular proteins, many of which have “great potential for new therapeutic approaches against Covid-19”.
Dr Alfredo Castello, from the University of Glasgow’s Centre for Virus Research (CVR) said the results were “extremely exciting” and could “pave the way to identify the best potential therapeutic targets”.
He said: “With just the first available inhibitor we tested in cell models, we were able to inhibit the virus replication, so the possibility for new treatment options is positive.
“Moreover, in parallel studies we found that many of these proteins also participate in the infection of other RNA viruses, so there is potential for discovering treatments with broad-range of action and that could be ready should a new coronavirus emerge.
“As we move into the next stage of the pandemic, developing treatment options that can work against new variants is a priority.
“We believe that we can do so by targeting the host cell instead of the virus.
“Such therapies would not only be important to treat vaccine-scaping variants, but may also have potential for new coronaviruses that may arise in the future.
“The next stage would be to continue the characterisation of these critical host-virus interactions; identify the best potential target for treatment; and in future study how they work in animal models.”
The study is called Global analysis of protein-RNA interactions in SARS-CoV-2 infected cells reveals key regulators of infection. It is funded by the Medical Research Council.