It’s about as audacious an idea as you can find in the world of infectious disease: a broad-spectrum antiviral — a “penicillin for viruses.” The stakes are incredibly high. The yearly tide of seasonal flu causes three to five million severe cases annually, killing hundreds of thousands of people. The “break-bone fever” of dengue virus threatens roughly half the world’s population. 350 million people today are living with hepatitis B or C, leading to millions of cases of liver disease and cancer. The HIV and COVID-19 pandemics have already killed tens of millions, and viruses from Ebola to bird flu are constantly threatening future epidemics, too.
All told, viral infections will account for tens of millions of deaths and trillions in economic losses over the coming decades. A drug that could treat all of them — or even a broad class of them — would be huge.
However, making any antiviral is hard enough, biochemist, former rocket scientist and software engineer, and serial entrepreneur Rick Kiessig explains. Viruses have sophisticated defenses, developed over eons of evolution. When they are inside cells, it’s generally too late. When they’re outside of cells, these tiny invaders are difficult to spot. And one favorite drug technique — attacking the biochemical pathways of organisms — does not work on viruses; they aren’t even alive.
“There’s something like 219-ish known diseases in humans that are caused by viruses,” Kiessig tells Freethink — and out of these hundreds, there are only a handful with antiviral treatments.
“So yeah, it’s a hard problem.”
The New Zealand-based startup Kimer Med, where Kiessig is the co-founder, chief science officer, and CEO, is taking on the ambitious mission of solving that problem. Inspired by work published in 2011, they are trying to develop a broad-spectrum antiviral that uses a target in human cells to hopefully attack a wide variety of viruses.
The technology behind it has already failed to gain traction once, but Kimer is betting that this time — in a post-pandemic world — will be different.
An inspiration: The previous approach, called DRACO, and Kimer’s new candidate, called VTose (pronounced “vee-tohs”), both hinge on something called double-stranded RNA. But while their targets are the same, VTose uses different proteins to form its virus-fighting “toolkit,” as Kiessig puts it.
Continue reading the full article on Freethink.