A collaboration of Australian and US scientists has developed a potential antiviral therapy to directly target and treat COVID-19.

Researchers from the Menzies Health Institute Queensland (MHIQ) at Griffith University and US research institute City of Hope have developed an RNA therapy that genetically targets SARS-CoV-2 and prevents it from replicating.

Co-lead researcher Professor Nigel McMillan from Griffith University said the drug specifically targeted the viral particles and no other cells in the body because it had been given specific genetic instructions about which cells to hunt down.

“This is basically a heat-seeking missile to specifically attack the genome of the virus and destroy it,” Professor McMillan said.

“So this is a great example of a direct antiviral against the viral genome itself. It doesn’t do anything to other cells, if it can’t find a target there it just leaves them alone.”

The drug uses gene-silencing RNA technology called “small-interfering” RNA or siRNA, which is designed to fit like a jigsaw piece directly into the viral genome.

When it does so, it gives off a signal for the cell to destroy that genetic material, rendering the viral particles inert and preventing them from replicating further.

The researchers trialled the drug in animal models, but said they were very confident after it performed well.

“What we’ve shown is when we put it into mice which are infected with the virus, we improve their survival rate quite remarkably,” Professor McMillan said.

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