Draco Antiviral Drug – Cure for the Common Cold?

Wed, Dec 21, 2011

Drugs, List of Toxins

Draco Antiviral Drug – Cure for the Common Cold?

The Antiviral Drug Revolution

Yesterday BBC news wrote an article on a new antiviral drug named Draco. No we’re not talking about the Draco from Harry Potter – this new Draco drug has been shown to effectively kill 15 strains of viruses in lab studies with human tissues and mice. Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?

There are hopes that Draco or other similar antiviral drugs could be the answer to H1N1, swine flu, bird flu, ebola and other viruses that could potentially start epidemics. Human history and disease forever changed since the antibiotic revolution began in 1928 when Alexander Fleming discovered the antibiotic properties of penicillium mold.

picture of DRACO Antiviral Apoptosis Chart

Chart of DRACO antiviral drugs and Apoptosis.

Since that day, thousands of antibiotics have been created and the average American has over 10 rounds of antibiotics in their lifetime. Scientists see a new revolution coming in drugs – the antiviral revolution, which could be just as impactful and long-lasting as the antibiotic revolution.

Draco is one of the potentially bright future stars of this new antiviral revolution and so many scientists are delighted at the prospects, but I along with others have grave concerns about what this could mean to human health in the long run.

How the Draco Drug Works

According to BBC,

“Natural proteins in an infected cell detect the presence of a virus. These proteins are sensitive to double stranded RNA, a genetic molecule unique to and present in nearly all viruses.

Todd Rider has taken one of these natural proteins and bound it to another natural protein – also present in all cells – that triggers cell suicide.

To help the new protein penetrate a cell, he added a feature that imitates part of the HIV virus, borrowing that virus’ ability to break into cells.

Once administered, the drug travels to every cell in the body but it will only activate in infected cells.

In a matter of hours, the RNA-sensing part of the drug detects the virus and activates the cell suicide part. When the host cell dies, so does the virus.”

Sounds like a perfect cure for viruses, right?

However, one cannot often predict the future without at least a semblance of understanding of the past. If you look at the antibiotic revolution, it did great things for human health by wiping out major diseases that plagued humanity for a long time including infections during childbirth.

But you can also see many of the downsides of the antibiotic revolution:

MRSA and other antibiotic resistant bacteria that are much stronger, much more deadly, much harder to kill, and spread more rapidly than bacteria. In essence, our antibiotics have created even stronger, deadlier, more powerful bacteria. What if the same thing happens to viruses?

The evolution of bacteria clearly outpaces even our most brilliant scientists. What kind of mutations and evolutionary changes will deadly viruses like H1N1, ebola and HIV make in the presence of these antiviral drugs? It’s scary to think of a MRSA-like virus with no cure. Far scarier than H1N1!

Although many scientists are hopeful that Draco could be the answer, it’s more likely that it could just be the beginning of something that will put more money into the pockets of the big pharmaceutical companies while not doing much to help human health in the long run.

What do you think? Will antiviral drugs like Draco save us or hurt us in the long run?

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3 Comments For This Post

  1. Rod Says:

    According to the MIT article, the way DRACOs work makes the likelihood or “resistant virus’s” very unlikely. As to putting large amounts of money into the pockets of Big Pharma… well, look up Pharmac. It’s one of the very few good things any New Zealand government has done.

  2. Tom Corson-Knowles Says:

    The pharmaceutical companies also said it was very unlikely for antibiotics to create drug-resistant bacteria, but now we have MRSA and many other drug-resistant bacteria strains that are much stronger than ever before. I believe it’s hubris that makes us humans think we can outsmart nature.

    I’ve never heard of Pharmac before, what do you think of it?

  3. jb Says:

    Nature is clearly creative, and bacteria have certainly proven wily in their evasion of whatever we throw at them, so much testing and more research is needed into unanticipated side effects due to potential use of DRACOs. When the researchers say “its unlikely”, it’s important to understand if they have actual reasoning behind it, or if it’s blind optimism. I think there are some clear differences between antibiotics and the approach that DRACOs are designed to take that make the researchers claims reasonable.
    First, antibiotics target bacteria directly, via physical/chemical means, which lends itself to bacteria being able to evolve away from being susceptible to the attack. DRACOs, on the other hand, target the cells that the viruses have hijacked to use to replicate. DRACOs identify a cell that is under attack and trigger apoptosis, ending viral replication within the cell. DRACOs don’t have special detection domains that latch onto specific virus receptors or shapes or whatever, so viruses will have a much harder time developing defenses against this.
    Also, the techniques that DRACOs use to both detect which cells are infected, and to trigger apoptosis are the same proven techniques the immune system already uses, but the immune system has intermediate steps in this process that viruses have already developed methods of interrupting or delaying, ultimately resulting in apoptosis not being triggered quickly enough to stop the viral replication. DRACOs are designed specifically to cut out the middle steps, making them more efficient, giving viruses many fewer angles of defense against the process.
    From what I understand, in order to evade DRACOs, viruses would have to fundamentally change how they replicate, which is a much different thing than how they currently evade something like immunization pressures, for example, by just slightly altering the projections on their protein coats. Especially given that almost all (if not all) viruses share this long-dsRNA-chain aspect to their replication, evolving away from it doesn’t seem to be a trivial process or likely outcome.

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