Treatment from banana protein works against all known COVID variants, study shows

Well-protected medical staff performs swab test for Covid-19 to a young blonde female patient.
The new treatment can work against all coronavirus variants (Getty)
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A revolutionary new treatment derived from banana protein offers hope for a new medicine which works against all coronavirus variants.

The chemical - H84T-BanLec - is isolated from banana fruit and works against all coronavirus variants and all flu variants.

It was initially designed before the pandemic to target flu, with the researchers hoping to move on to target coronaviruses but - ironically - COVID lockdowns put a stop to the research.

The researchers then discovered that the treatment, which has only been tested on animals to date, works on COVID-19.

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"We thought MERS would be the big target, which we were worried about because of its 35% mortality rate," said David Markovitz, M.D., professor of internal medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Michigan Medical School.

MERS, or Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, caused a brief outbreak in 2015 and resulted in 858 confirmed deaths.

A peer-reviewed paper in Cell Reports Medicine describes how H84T-BanLec against all known human-infecting coronaviruses, including MERS, the original SARS, and SARS-CoV2, including the omicron variant.

"When COVID-19 occurred, we of course wanted to study the therapy's potential and discovered it was effective against every type of coronavirus, in vitro and in vivo," Markovitz said.

"Whether delivered systemically or through the nose in animal models, or prophylactically or therapeutically early on in the illness, it worked."

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H84T-BanLec is derived from a lectin (a carbohydrate-binding protein) isolated from banana fruit.

It accomplishes its remarkable viral-blocking abilities by binding to high-mannose glycans, polysaccharides that are present on the surface of the viruses, but only very rarely on normal healthy human cells.

After the binding, the virus cannot enter cells to infect them.

Using atomic force microscopy and related methods, the team confirmed that H84T develops multiple strong bonds with the spike protein, which probably explains why it's hard for a coronavirus to be resistant to the lectin, said Markovitz.

Despite their anti-viral potential, lectins have traditionally been avoided as possible therapies because they are proteins that can stimulate the immune system in a potentially harmful way, explains Markovitz.

But H84T-BanLec has been modified to remove this effect and showed no detrimental effects in the animal models.

While several treatments for COVID-19 currently exist, including remdesivir, Paxlovid and monoclonal antibodies, they have varied levels of effectiveness.

There are also problems with side effects and ease of use and many have proven less effective as SARS-CoV2 continues to evolve.

H84T-BanLec holds unique promise, according to the team, because it is effective against all coronavirus variants as well as influenza viruses.

Markovitz and the team hope to see the therapy take the more difficult step from animal model to testing in humans.

The team envisions a nasal spray or drops that can be used to prevent or treat coronavirus and influenza infections in seasonal and pandemic situations.

They also hope to examine using H84T-BanLec against cancer—as cancer cells, like viruses, also have high mannose glycans on their surfaces.

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