Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Helpful Zirus

There is a lot of science going on in Georgia: in addition to phage development, biotech firm Zirus is working on a new way to eliminate viral infections. Instead of targeting the virion directly, Zirus aims to target the host cell, creating medications that should make human cells “inhospitable to viral infection.” Researchers at Zirus hope the technology will be effective against a broad range of viral infections, from HIV to the common cold. A central objective is to find a solution for an entire family of viruses, which would be a bold proactive move, anticipating viruses yet to emerge.

In vitro tests showed Zirus techniques to be effective with every virus tested so far—they say the implication is that a universal drug would be possible. Personally, I think I will wait for the in vivo trials before making any presumptions about universal application.

They call the technology a ‘gene trap’, which is essentially a modified retrovirus that will enter a cell and alter a single gene that when expressed allows harmful viral infections to occur. Zirus wants to turn off the production of all proteins that are ‘virus-friendly’. Unfortunately, protein-inhibiting drugs carry the concern of toxicity. Zirus is optimistic nonetheless. A representative explained that several genes will be possible targets for each virus, and at least one will not involve high toxicity.

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