An international team of researchers has created a new antiviral material, essentially made from sugar, that is able to “destroy viruses on contact and may help in the fight against viral outbreaks.”

The scientists, from The University of Manchester, the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the EPFL in Lausanne, Switzerland, say that the treatment shows promise in treating herpes simplex, respiratory syncytial virus, hepatitis C, HIV, and Zika virus - to name a few.

Current antiviral drugs work by inhibiting virus growth, but they are not always reliable as viruses can mutate and become resistant to these treatments.

This time around, the team showed that the outer shell of a virus can be disrupted using modified sugar molecules, thereby destroying the infectious particles on contact, as oppose to simply restricting its growth.

In work published in Science Advances, the team showed that they successfully engineered new modified molecules using natural glucose derivatives, known as cyclodextrins. The molecules attract viruses before breaking them down on contact, destroying the virus and fighting the infection.

The team has “successfully engineered a new molecule, which is a modified sugar that shows broad-spectrum antiviral properties,” explained Dr Samuel Jones, from The University of Manchester. “The antiviral mechanism is virucidal meaning that viruses struggle to develop resistance. As this is a new type of antiviral and one of the first to ever show broad-spectrum efficacy, it has potential to be a game changer in treating viral infections.”

The University of Manchester says that the molecule is patented and a spin-out company is being set up to continue pushing this new antiviral towards real-world use.