Double-stranded RNA activated caspase oligomerizer (DRACO) is an antiviral technology that works by destroying infected cells rather than directly attacking viral particles themselves, thus disrupting viral replication. It has proven effective against numerous viruses, and should in principal work against near all viral infections in a broad range of species, including the many persistent viral infections that presently lack any effective treatment. The technology finds itself in a similar position to SENS rejuvenation research however, with little support from the funding mainstream, and needing to raise funds from philanthropists to bring the technology to the clinic. Potential radical improvements over the existing status quo are often in this situation, unfortunately. Following on from an initial crowdfunding effort last year, and a growing group of supporters, the Rider Institute is the latest step in the organization of fundraising and advocacy for DRACO research and development:
Currently there are relatively few prophylactics or therapeutics for viruses, and most that do exist are highly virus- or even strain-specific or have undesirable side effects or other disadvantages. We have developed a radically new, broad-spectrum antiviral therapeutic/prophylactic that has the potential to revolutionize the treatment of viral infections. Our Double-stranded RNA Activated Caspase Oligomerizer (DRACO) approach selectively induces apoptosis (cell suicide) in cells containing viral double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). DRACO should recognize virus-infected cells and rapidly kill those cells without harming uninfected cells, thereby terminating the viral infection while minimizing the impact on the host.
When tested in human and animal cells, DRACOs have been nontoxic and effective against 18 different viruses, including rhinovirus (the common cold) and dengue hemorrhagic fever. We have also demonstrated that DRACO is nontoxic in mice and rescues mice from lethal challenges with H1N1 influenza, Amapari arenavirus, Tacaribe arenavirus, and Guama bunyavirus in preliminary trials.
DRACO research has entered what is known as the "Valley of Death." Modest amounts of funding from the National Institutes of Health have enabled the previous proof-of-concept experiments in cells and mice, but that funding grant is now over. Major pharmaceutical companies have the resources and expertise to carry new drugs like DRACO through the manufacturing scale-up, large-scale animal trials, and human trials required for FDA approval. However, before committing any of their own money, those companies want to see that DRACOs have already been shown to be effective against major clinically relevant viruses (such as members of the herpesvirus family), not just the proof-of-concept viruses (such as rhinovirus) that were previously funded by NIH. Thus the Valley of Death is the financial and experimental gap between the previously funded NIH proof-of-concept experiments and the threshold for convincing major pharmaceutical companies to advance DRACOs toward human trials.
We are now raising funds to test and optimize DRACOs against the herpesvirus family, which contains many major clinical viruses such as Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1), Herpes Simplex Virus 2 (HSV-2), Cytomegalovirus (CMV), Varicella Zoster Virus (VZV, chickenpox and shingles virus), Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV), and Kaposi's Sarcoma Herpesvirus (KSHV). If we can raise enough funding, we also hope to test and optimize DRACOs against the family of retroviruses, which includes Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Human T-Lymphotropic Virus (HTLV). In principle, the DRACO approach should be effective against virtually all known viruses, or potentially even against new viruses that may appear.
This campaign has been set up to raise the funding necessary to bridge the Valley of Death for DRACO research. With your assistance, we hope to raise enough funding to provide a total of $2 million dollars over four years, in order to test and optimize DRACOs against clinically relevant viruses in human cells. If successful, the results of those experiments should persuade pharmaceutical companies and other major sponsors to commit their own resources to advance DRACOs through large-scale animal trials and hopefully human trials. Without your assistance, DRACOs may never progress further, and their potential to revolutionize the treatment of viral infections may remain unfulfilled.