Computing giant IBM has engineered a breakthrough macromolecule that could help prevent viruses like Ebola, Herpes, Zika and even flu. The new chemical could also prevent viral drug resistance and further accelerate drug discovery.

Working with researchers from the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) in Singapore, IBM’s Research arm created the new chemical that could be used in soap or cleaning products to combat viruses.

This macromolecule fights viruses in three ways. First, the macromolecule’s structure attracts viruses through hydrogen bonds with electrostatic interactions, which bond to the proteins on the viral surface.

Then a type of sugar called mannose in the macromolecule competes with the viruses for interaction with the human cells. Another component of the macromolecule, known as basic amine groups, neutralises the pH inside the viral cell making it inhospitable for replication.

“We have created an anti-viral macromolecule that can tackle wily viruses by blocking the virus from infecting the cells, regardless of mutations,” said Scientist at IBN, Yi Yan Yang.

“It is not toxic to healthy cells and is safe for use. This promising research advance represents years of hard work and collaboration with a global community of researchers,” continued Yang.

IBM will leverage Watson’s cognitive computing power to further the research. For example, as this macromolecule progresses to the clinical trial stage, researchers could use IBM Watson Discovery Advisor to draw connections between disparate data sets to speed new insights. Or Watson could also be used to match find the right patients for clinical trials.

“With the recent outbreak of viruses such as Zika and Ebola, achieving anti-viral breakthroughs becomes even more important,” said Lead Researcher on Advanced Organic Materials at IBM Research in San Jose, James Hedrick.

“We are excited about the possibilities that this novel approach represents, and are looking to collaborate with universities and other organisations to identify new applications,” concluded Hedrick.

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