The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than two million people worldwide and death tolls continue to mount due to the lack of an effective prevention, cure, or widespread vaccine for the disease. Influenza viruses have been even more deadly in the past, and still cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every year. Seasonal flu vaccines also often suffer from low levels of efficacy. Thus, there is a great need for broad-spectrum therapeutics that could treat or prevent infection by a wide range of coronaviruses and influenza viruses, from which new pandemic viruses frequently originate.
Wyss researchers have discovered a new class of immunostimulatory RNAs (isRNAs) that can effectively inhibit infection of human cells by a wide range of viruses including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and even common cold viruses. Many viruses have evolved mechanisms that allow them to evade detection by the body’s immune system. These novel isRNAs stimulate the body’s natural Type I Interferon (IFN-I) response – its first line of defense against viruses – to overcome viral suppression mechanisms and neutralize invading pathogens.
A novel virus, a novel treatment
Infection with SARS-CoV-2 induces a unique inflammatory response in which the IFN-I-mediated antiviral component is much lower than the pro-inflammatory component, which likely contributes to the life-threatening “cytokine storms” that afflict patients with severe disease. Preferentially increasing the IFN-I response has the potential to correct this imbalance.
In studies with human lung epithelial cells, our isRNAs increased the IFN-I pathway without increasing inflammation, resulting in >95% inhibition of influenza infection and >99% inhibition of SARS-CoV-2 infection. The isRNAs also inhibited SARS-CoV-2 infection in vivo in a hamster COVID-19 model. This technology could be used both to prevent infection as well to treat patients after they contract COVID-19 and other viral diseases, and may be particularly useful when administered via inhalation or intranasally.
isRNAs can also be used to treat other conditions that would benefit from interferon pathway induction (e.g., cancer, autoimmune diseases) and have the potential to treat other viral, bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infections. In addition, they could serve as an adjuvant to enhance the efficacy of existing vaccines.
A patent covering this technology is currently pending.
The Wyss Institute is seeking a commercial partner with experience in RNA therapeutics and targeted delivery to help rapidly commercialize this technology.