Jerry Pelletier of McGill University, in Quebec, Canada, and colleagues have discovered a small molecule (which means it could be easy to make) in coral that can inhibit the replication of certain viruses. The research shows that the natural product, known as hippuristanol, blocks the protein-production machinery in cells that is hijacked by viruses and so halts a viral invasion in its tracks.
Hippuristanol is produced by the coral Isis hippuris, hence the compound’s name and seemingly prevents the viral protein, eIF4A, from binding to messenger RNA, mRNA. mRNA carries the code to make proteins from DNA to specific sites of protein synthesis in the cell. By binding to the mRNA, eIF4A initiates the translation of the protein code. Hippuristanol prevents replication by inhibiting this process.
Viruses, such as poliovirus hijack this protein machinery and so can be blocked by hippuristanol, at least that’s the theory. Hippuristanol could soon join the growing arsenal of antiviral compounds although it is still a long way off from being added to the GPs prescription books.
You can find the complete paper in Nature Chemical Biology: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nchembio776