Antiviral therapies against Covid-19, such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid and Merck’s Lagevrio, reduce the rates of hospitalization and death by nearly 90 percent among high-risk patients.
But the SARS-CoV-2-virus rapidly mutates, and that means new antivirals must be developed constantly and quickly to stay ahead of the Covid curve.
ViroBlock, a Jerusalem-based startup, has developed a new drug platform for rapidly generating antiviral drugs that target proteins common to all Covid-19 variants and other viruses, including influenza, Zika, West Nile and hepatitis.
The platform targets the E (for “envelope”) protein in a virus, which are 95% alike, no matter the virus. The spike proteins on the SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 viruses, on the other hand, are only 75% identical.
This means that ViroBlock drugs would likely remain effective even when a virus mutates – an issue that rears its viral head annually when pharma companies try to outguess the direction of the next year’s flu.
ViroBlock also inhibits a separate protein, 3a, present in most viruses.
“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,” says ViroBlock CEO Isaiah (Shy) Arkin, a professor of biological chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Today, he adds, “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.”
The next phase of ViroBlock’s clinical trials will test the efficacy of its novel antiviral approach on humans. The company also has drugs in the pipeline currently being tested that could be effective against other viruses.
ViroBlock was founded in 2020 through Yissum, the Hebrew University technology transfer company.