DRACO, double-stranded RNA activated caspase oligomerizer, is a broadly applicable antiviral technology that has been under development at a slow pace for quite some time now. You might recall some publicity back in 2011, for example, but that marked the results of years of earlier work. DRACO attacks infected cells, not the viruses themselves, following the principle of finding a common vulnerability to target rather than trying to tailor therapies to every different variety of attacker. Despite technology demonstrations to show effectiveness against a broad range of very different types of virus, and the fact that this technology can in principle be applied to near any type of virus, there is next to no ongoing funding for DRACO. It stands as an example of the fact that you can build a better mousetrap and still have the world ignore you. In this case DRACO is languishing despite grave concerns regarding spreading viral resistance to existing drugs, and billions devoted to constructing new drugs that are just more of the same.
Advocacy and philanthropy are often the only ways forward for a new medical technology that is a radical departure from the present status quo. This is a lesson to keep in mind when we talk about the various branches of longevity science. It is hard to obtain funding in the life sciences in any meaningful fashion, and the organization of funding for any ongoing serious effort has become a baroque effort involving many players, all of whom are operating with perverse incentives that only serve to slow down progress and make funding less effective on a dollar for dollar basis. For example the large funding bodies are extremely risk-averse, and thus almost never fund the most important early-stage and high-risk projects, the science that is actually science, at the forefront and involving new discoveries. These funding bodies only ever put money into ongoing development wherein which the researchers can already demonstrate proof of concept and an understanding of the mechanisms involved. Getting to that point for any new line of research requires creative accounting and the help of philanthropic donations, and even so there is far too little actual science taking place in major laboratories.
I noticed a recent paper, one of the few for DRACO of late, in which the authors provide evidence to show that DRACO is a worthwhile avenue for antiviral therapies in pigs, targeting diseases for which there are no presently adequate therapies. Another of the draws here is that DRACO isn't just an approach for near all viruses but also an approach that should work for near all mammals as well.
Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus (PRRSV) continues to cause substantial economic losses to the pig industry worldwide. Current vaccination strategies and antiviral drugs against PRRSV are still inadequate. Therefore, there is an urgent need for new antiviral strategies to control PRRSV.
Double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) is a synthetic construct consisting of a dsRNA detection domain, an apoptosis induction domain, and a transduction tag. It has been shown to have broad-spectrum antiviral activity, but there have been no reports regarding its effect on PRRSV. Here, we demonstrate that DRACO exhibits robust antiviral activity against PRRSV infection by suppressing virus RNA and protein synthesis in both Marc-145 cells and porcine alveolar macrophages (PAMs). In addition, DRACO still exhibited strong anti-PRRSV activity when viral replication was enhanced by knockdown of interferon-induced protein with tetratricopeptide repeats 3 (IFIT3) in Marc-145 cells. Furthermore, in PAMs, DRACO was capable of inducing IL-6 expression and reducing Hsp70 expression, which might contribute to the inhibition of PRRSV infection.
Collectively, our results imply that DRACO holds promise as a novel anti-PRRSV therapeutic drug.
Yet there is insufficient funding for any meaningful ongoing development of DRACO. Some people have been trying to put together a foundation to raise philanthropic funds, and of late some of their advocacy efforts can be seen at Facebook, but so far there is little progress towards gathering broader support. It is most frustrating; yet another example of the way in which our world is far from ideal.