Nanotechnology, messenger RNA combined in possible new universal COVID-19 treatment

A study led by an Oregon State University pharmaceutical sciences researcher has produced a proof of principle for a new “universal” means of treating COVID-19.

Gaurav Sahay and collaborators at OSU and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute demonstrated in a mouse model that it’s possible to prompt the production of a protein that can block multiple variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from entering cells and causing respiratory disease.

“Rather than messenger RNA as a vaccine, this shows that mRNA can be used as a universal therapy against different coronaviruses,” Sahay said. “Despite mass vaccination, there is an urgent need to develop effective treatment options to end this pandemic. Several therapies have shown some effectiveness, but the virus’ high mutation rate complicates the development of drugs that treat all variants of concern.”

Findings were published in Advanced Science. Next steps involve showing that the protein prevents infection in mice, said Sahay, who added that the mRNA treatment is possibly “a couple of years” away from being available to human patients.

Breathing in the virus is the primary way to contract COVID-19, blamed for 6 million deaths globally since the pandemic began in late 2019. The virus’ envelope is covered in spike proteins that bind to an enzyme produced by cells in the lungs.

Using messenger RNA packaged in lipid nanoparticles, the scientists showed in the mouse model that host cells can produce a “decoy” enzyme that binds to coronavirus spike proteins, meaning the virus shouldn’t be able to latch onto cells in the host’s airway and start the infection process.

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