QUT Scientist to Lead New Research Against Viruses Like COVID-19 and Monkeypox

A QUT scientist will lead a team of researchers that will investigate a new method to prevent the spread of emerging viruses such as COVID-19 and Monkeypox.

QUT’s Dr Nathan Boase, a polymer chemist who researches nanomedicines, is the chief investigator of the two-year project whose specific aim is to develop a “stop-gap” therapeutic that will buy scientists some time to develop a vaccine.

The team will attempt to target the membrane that envelopes the virus and disrupt it so that the virus won’t be able to merge with the human cells.

“This project is the first step towards the development of broad-spectrum antiviral therapeutics that can be stockpiled, at low cost, and rapidly deployed to fill the gap between the emergence of a new viral disease and the development of an effective vaccine,” Dr Boase said.

“These new therapies are needed to protect civilian populations and to maintain operational preparedness of military forces.”

Discovery Award Grant

The project will initially focus on providing proof of concept. It will be funded by a $US200,000 Discovery Award grant from the U.S. Department of Defense under its Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs.

Dr Boase will be working with QUT’s Centre for Materials Science and School of Chemistry and Physics, Professor Kathryn Fairfull-Smith, Professor Leonie Barner, and Dr Kirsty Short from the University of Queensland.

Dr Boase said he learned about the U.S. Department of Defense funding program – which is granted each year to research projects such as those in areas of combating emerging viral diseases – during the 2020 lockdown. It was then that he thought of pivoting his efforts and helping in the fight against these diseases.

 "The current emergence of Monkeypox highlights the need for these rapid therapeutics.”
“The current emergence of Monkeypox highlights the need for these rapid therapeutics.” | Photo Credit: Fusion Medical Animation / Unsplash

“When a new virus emerges like COVID did, we are woefully underprepared to protect ourselves from it.  Even with rapid development it still took 11 months to develop a vaccine for COVID,” furthers Dr Boase..

“With thousands of mammalian viruses not yet discovered and a continued push to globalisation, the unfortunate reality is that future viral pandemics are inevitable. The current emergence of Monkeypox, as we are only just recovering from the COVID pandemic, highlights the need for these rapid therapeutics.

“We need to have broad-spectrum therapeutics on hand that can reduce disease severity, irrelevant of viral strain, in the interim until a vaccine can be produced.

He explained that whilst the vaccine targets the virus, its aim is to target the casing that surrounds all these types of viruses. They hope to achieve this by synthesising new polymers to bind to virus casings and then investigating which of these polymers are the “most effective at weakening those casings.”

With the two-year research, the team hopes to produce preliminary findings that will attract more funding from medical grants. 

“We want this initial project to produce the fundamental new scientific knowledge that will allow for the eventual development of a clinical therapeutic that can aid in the defence against emerging viral diseases,” Professor Leonie Barner explained.