Gene silencing technology to target COVID-19

SARS-CoV-2- the virus that causes COVID-19-isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML
SARS-CoV-2- the virus that causes COVID-19-isolated from a patient in the U.S. Virus particles are shown emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. The spikes on the outer edge of the virus particles give coronaviruses their name, crown-like. Credit: NIAID-RML

Using gene-silencing technology to turn off respiratory virus genes, Griffith University researchers aim to identify new and repurpose antiviral drug treatments targeting COVID-19.

Professor Nigel McMillan.

Headed by Professor Nigel McMillan from Menzies Health Institute Queensland, the Griffith research team has been awarded $317,694 as part of the Federal Government’s Medical Research Future Fund.

“Our research will fast-track promising effective treatments that can be made available to treat Australians infected with SARS-CoV-2,” Professor McMillan said.

“We will retool our previously developed gene-silencing nanoparticle delivery technology that we have shown is effective against a range of respiratory viruses including Hendravirus, RSV, and human metapneumovirus.

“Treatment with virus-specific siRNA (silence-inducing RNA), reduces viral load by 99.9%. These stealth nanoparticles can be delivered to a wide range of lung cells and silence viral genes.”

Professor McMillan said the big advantage of the treatment was its delivery via the blood stream, thus bypassing the inflamed airway that blocks delivery of many drugs.

“We have SARS-CoV-2 siRNAs targets developed and we have extensive data showing the nanoparticles induce no inflammatory response or activity.

“All products in the formulation are FGA-approved for human use and a number of siRNAs are now FGA-approved products in use today.”

The research team – which includes researchers from Griffith University and the US, and advised by Ian Frazer, inventor of the HPV vaccine Gardasil – will examine the efficacy of the SARS-CoV-2 siRNAs targets against the live virus.

The Griffith University grant is part of the Federal Government’s $66 million research package for COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

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