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ViroBlock, a startup company founded by Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) researchers, has developed a new drug platform for rapidly generating anti-viral drugs that target proteins common to all viruses.

"Currently, there are no efficient, validated platforms for rapidly generating anti-viral drugs," says ViroBlock CEO and Founder Isaiah (Shy) Arkin, who is also an HU professor of biological chemistry in the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences. "Scientists must develop new agents and a customized approach to target every new virus, without the ability to predict how that virus will develop resistance. ViroBlock is working on a promising drug candidate for COVID-19 using an approach that can be duplicated with most other important viruses."

According to a new study conducted by pharma research company Evotec, ViroBlock’s new technology platform demonstrated the potential to rapidly provide solutions for treating current and emerging viral threats, including COVID-19 and variants, influenza, Zika, West Nile, and Hepatitis B. The study showed that channel blockers it identified could protect cells from viral-induced death alongside dramatically lowering the amount of viral progeny.

ViroBlock's antiviral drug candidates inhibit two targets in the virus: the E (envelope) protein and the 3a protein. The E protein is an ion channel, a type of protein family expressed by virtually all living cells that because of its structure has served as a frequent target for pharmaceutical point interventions. For example, while the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 (the 2003 virus) are only about 75% identical, their E proteins are roughly 95% alike. This means the ViroBlock drugs would likely remain effective even when the virus mutates.

"With our propriety technology, ViroBlock can identify targets in a new viral threat (or variant), develop inhibitors against it, and determine the resistance potential of the virus against the new drug, all at an unprecedented pace," Arkin says.

The next phase of clinical trials will test the efficacy of this anti-viral approach for humans. The company also has drugs in the pipeline produced by the platform currently being tested that could be effective against other viruses.