Although a variety of broad-spectrum antibiotics have been developed, broad-spectrum antiviral agents have proved more difficult to identify. Effective treatments have been developed for individual viruses such as HIV, herpes viruses and influenza viruses – and vaccines have also been developed against papilloma viruses and herpes viruses – but there is a need for small molecules that are able to treat a range of viral infections and could also be used against newly emerging viruses.
Researchers led by a team at UCLA have now identified a compound, LJ-001, that can treat a range of enveloped viruses. The team screened a library of around 30,000 compounds against Nipah virus, a pathogen that was first identified in 1998 and causes severe disease in both animals and humans. Further tests showed that LJ-001 was also effective against other enveloped viruses including Ebola virus, HIV, hepatitis C virus, West Nile virus, Rift Valley fever virus, yellow fever virus and influenza A virus, but had no effect against non-enveloped viruses. The compound interacts with the viral lipid envelope and inhibits viral entry at a step after virus binding but before virus–cell fusion.
Although LJ-001 also binds to cellular membranes, the team believe that its low toxicity can be attributed to the fact that metabolically active cells are able to repair their membranes whilst static viruses are not. LJ-001showed no overt toxicity at effective anti-viral concentrations in either in vitro or in vivo studies, and pretreatment of mice with LJ-001 prevented virus-induced mortality from Ebola and Rift Valley fever viruses.
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.