Viral pandemics lead to substantial economic and human losses. The recent example of the COVID-19 pandemic shows that we are not prepared to mitigate the spread of a harmful pathogen without suffering enormous financial consequences. A major factor is that developing specific treatment takes time and is often only available after the virus has infected most of the population.
Defense Biosciences invests in novel technologies that aim at developing broad spectrum antivirals that can be deployed as a first line of defense as soon as a novel virus emerges. This will significantly reduce the impact on human lives and financial and social stability and will generate time to produce virus specific therapeutics such as vaccines.
Lectins can be used as broad-spectrum antiviral agents due to their ability to bind sugars on the surface of viruses, blocking viral attachment. Lectins are often mitogenic (stimulate cell division), making them undesirable as antiviral agents. The banana lectin (BanLec) has been engineered through a point mutation (H84T), disrupting the mitogenicity while preserving broad-spectrum antiviral activity. H84T shows strong efficacy against a number of viruses in in-vitro and in-vivo models, including HIV, hepatitis C virus, influenza, and pathogenic coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1, and MERS-CoV.