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New antiviral agent identified by ELKH, ELTE and NNK researchers


Researchers of the ELKH-ELTE Peptide Chemistry Research Group, the ELTE TTK Biological Institute and the Hungarian National Center for Public Health have identified a naturally occurring compound that could be effective against the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. The domestic and international patenting of the substance has already begun. The results of the research were reported in the ELTE Innovation Press Club by the collaborators in the study.

Szilvia Bősze, researcher at the ELKH-ELTE Peptide Chemistry Research Group said that during the collaboration, which has been ongoing for several years, they were looking for effective agents against intracellular pathogens – i.e. bacteria, viruses – that are capable of destroying pathogens in host cells. The collaboration was also supported by the ELTE Diagnostics and Therapy Excellence Program. When SARS-CoV-2 appeared, the researchers believed that if they continued working together, they would be able to find compounds that could also be effective against this viral pathogen.

The task of ELTE researchers was to isolate natural compounds of plant or mushroom origin, purify these fractions, and analytically and structurally characterize the pure chemical entities. Szilvia Bősze and Kata Horváti performed the in vitro selectivity tests with the characterized compounds. “We investigated whether the compounds have a toxic effect on healthy human cells, i.e. on potential virus host cells,” said Kata Horváti, a member of the ELKH-ELTE Peptide Chemistry Research Group, and head of the MTA-TTK Peptides-based Vaccines Momentum Research Group. Their tasks also included developing a reliable antiviral experimental system and optimizing the measurement parameters. The antiviral activity of the compounds was tested on cells infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the triple biological safety level laboratory of the National Public Health Center. This work was carried out by Szilvia Bősze and Kata Horváti, together with Bernadett Pályi and Zoltán Kis from the NNK BSL-3/4 laboratory.

“The research group examined natural substances of plant and mushroom origin,” said Gábor M. Kovács, a staff member of the ELTE Biological Institute. During the tests special attention was paid to endophytic fungi living in the soil and in the roots of plants, which, in addition to being sustainable as isolates, can be particularly rich in substances that have some kind of biological effect. “These viruses could not have encountered fungi in nature, they do not interact with them, and the fortunate situation may even arise that no resistance develops at all,” Kovács explained. “Based on the applied extraction procedures and the subsequent chemical tests, it is possible to narrow down the groups of potentially effective molecules that can be applied to certain applications,” added Imre Boldizsár, a staff member of the ELTE Institute of Biology.

Zoltán Kis, an expert at the National Public Health Center emphasized that the fight against pathogens is an eternal race – new viruses are always appearing, for which the world must prepare. One notable advantage of the discovered compound is that, according to the tests so far, it is also effective against several SARS-CoV-2 virus variants.

The discovery is currently in the patent process, which is expected to be concluded in early February 2023. “This substance has a clearly proven, very strong antiviral effect against SARS-CoV-2, and this is a significant result,” emphasized Gábor M. Kovács, noting that many active substances have already been tested against the coronavirus, but only very few have had an antiviral effect.

The participants of the collaboration emphasized that as a result of their work, they have at their disposal a library of characterized compounds, which can be tested immediately even if new pathogens appear.

“The present research is an excellent example of how the cooperation of several researchers and institutions can lead to truly effective innovations,” added Dániel Magyar, director of the ELTE Innovation Center.