Scientists in Hong Kong say they have made a potential breakthrough discovery in the fight against infectious diseases – a chemical that could slow the spread of deadly viral illnesses.
In a study published this month in the journal Nature Communications, a team from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) described the newly discovered chemical as “highly potent in interrupting the life cycle of diverse viruses”.
The scientists told AFP news agency on Monday that it could one day be used as a broad-spectrum antiviral for a host of infectious diseases – and even for viruses that have yet to emerge – if it passes clinical trials.
The spread in recent decades of sometimes deadly bird flu strains, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have underscored the need for new drugs that can work more quickly than vaccines.
Broad-spectrum antivirals are seen as the holy grail because they can be used against multiple pathogens.
In contrast, vaccines usually only protect against one strain, and by the time they are produced the virus may have mutated.
The HKU team tested their chemical “AM580” on mice in a two-year study and found it stopped the replication of a host of flu strains – including H1N1, H5N1 and H7N9 – as well as the viruses that cause SARS and MERS.
It also stopped the replication of the mosquito-borne Zika virus and Enterovirus 71 which causes hand, foot and mouth disease.
“This is what we call a broad-spectrum antiviral drug, which means it can kill a number of viruses,” microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, who led the team, told AFP.
“This is quite important in the early control of an epidemic.”
Cancer-detecting breath test being trialled in UK (1:56)
Starving the virus
The study is part of a growing body of research by virologists to find drugs that avoid targeting a virus directly – something which could lead to resistance. Instead they look for compounds that interrupt the way viruses use crucial fatty acids, known as lipids, within a host’s cells to replicate.
“This study is science in progress – an early step in an exciting new direction,” said Benjamin Neuman, an expert on viruses at Texas A&M University-Texarkana who has published his own studies on starving viruses of lipids.
“Viruses are totally dependent on supplies stolen from their hosts, and a number of recent studies have shown that treatments that interrupt the steady flow of lipids in an infected cell are highly effective at blocking a wide range of viruses,” he told AFP.
The next step is to test the drug on a wider variety of animals, including pigs and primates, before pushing to clinical trials, a process Yuen said could take up to eight years.
The HKU team have applied for a patent in the United States.
A derivative of AM580 is already being used in Japan to treat cancer, raising hopes that it will show low toxicity for humans.
But Neuman warns there are drawbacks.
Like many chemotherapy methods used to fight cancer, antivirals such as AM580 damage a person’s cells to starve a virus. While cells can heal, much research still needs to be done on how and when to use such techniques.
“Unless the treatment is targeted very carefully, the potential for side effects would be very worrying,” he said.
Densely populated Hong Kong has first-hand experience of deadly viral outbreaks.
In 2003, nearly 300 people died from SARS and the city’s densely packed apartment blocks are considered hugely vulnerable to future outbreaks.
Three bodies found after days of unrest in Solomon Islands
Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city. The charred bodies were…
Australian police are now helping patrol Honiara, the capital, which was relatively calm on Saturday morning.The bodies of three people have been discovered in a burnt-out building in Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, police said on Saturday, the first reported deaths after days of rioting in the restive city.
The charred bodies were discovered in a store in the Chinatown district, which has been a target for looters and protesters. A security guard told AFP news agency he found the bodies in two rooms late on Friday.
Police said forensic teams had launched an investigation and were still on the scene but that the cause of the deaths was unclear.
The streets of the capital remained relatively quiet on Saturday morning as residents began to assess the damage left by days of rioting.
A curfew had been imposed on the restive capital overnight after a third day of violence that saw the prime minister’s home come under attack and swathes of the city reduced to smouldering ruins.
Australian police officers and local police monitoring a crowd in Honiara on Friday after days of rioting [Jay Liofasi/AFP]Australian police officers, who arrived in the country late on Thursday following a request from the government, also joined their Solomon Islands’ counterparts on the streets to help restore order and protect critical infrastructure.
The explosion of violence is partly a result of frustrations with Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare’s government and chronic unemployment — a situation made worse by the pandemic.
Experts say the crisis has also been fuelled by long-standing animosity between residents of Malaita, the most populous island, and the central government based on the island of Guadalcanal.
The archipelago nation of about 700,000 people has for decades endured ethnic and political tensions.
Malaita residents have long complained that their island is neglected by the central government, and divisions have intensified since Sogavare suddenly switched diplomatic recognition to China from Taiwan in 2019.
Songavare on Friday blamed foreign powers for stoking the unrest, but did not name them.
‘Incomparable’ Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim dies at 91
Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported. Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut,…
Legendary composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, widely credited with revolutionising musical theatre, died on Friday at the age of 91, The New York Times has reported.
Lawyer F Richard Pappas told the newspaper that Sondheim – renowned for musicals including West Side Story and Sweeney Todd – died suddenly at his home in Roxbury, Connecticut, the day after celebrating Thanksgiving with friends.
“There are no words. He had them all. And the music. He was incomparable,” the UK-based Stephen Sondheim Society, which is dedicated to promoting and studying his work, tweeted along with three heart emojis, one of them broken.
“He was God to many of us. We loved his work. And god he was good.”
Born on March 22, 1930, to an affluent family in New York City, Sondheim was involved in musical theatre from an early age.
He started playing piano at age seven and, after his parents divorced and he moved with his mother to Pennsylvania, learned to write musicals with neighbour Oscar Hammerstein II, who with partner Richard Rodgers wrote hugely popular shows including The Sound of Music.
Sondheim’s got his first big breakthrough on Broadway in 1957 with West Side Story, which transplanted Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to working-class Manhattan.
‘We are all blessed to have been alive at the same time as this theatre legend… & to have received from him a gift as precious as his art’
Stephen Sondheim has died at the age of 91. The @SondheimSociety’s @craigglenday offers a few initial thoughts…https://t.co/UVcbLvWCHy pic.twitter.com/P5mzITxPPV
— MusicalTheatreReview (@MusicalTheatreR) November 27, 2021
He left us with so many words, but none enough for this post. Goodbye, old pal. Thank you, Stephen Sondheim, for so much brilliance in the theatre and sharing your music with us all. pic.twitter.com/Qe55GcDQeS
— The Tony Awards (@TheTonyAwards) November 27, 2021
Later successes included Sweeney Todd, about a murderous barber in London whose victims are served as meat pies, which opened in 1979, and Into the Woods, which opened on Broadway in 1987 and used children’s fairy tales to untangle adult obsessions.
“I love the theatre as much as music, and the whole idea of getting across to an audience and making them laugh, making them cry – just making them feel – is paramount to me,” Sondheim said in a 2013 interview with National Public Radio.
‘Singing your songs forever’
Sondheim won numerous awards during his career including eight Grammy awards, and eight Tony awards, including the special honour of Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. He also picked up one Academy Award and a Pulitzer Prize, and was nominated for many more Grammys and Tonys, as well as two Golden Globes.
In 2015, then-US president Barack Obama presented Sondheim with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour, for his life’s work.
Several of Sondheim’s musicals have been turned into films including West Side Story in 1961, which won an Oscar, and Into the Woods, starring Meryl Streep, in 2007. A new version of West Side Story, directed by Steven Spielberg, is due to be released next month.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created the smash-hit rap musical Hamilton and was mentored by Sondheim, has called him musical theatre’s greatest lyricist.
Sondheim, who was gay, reportedly lived alone until his 60s, keeping his sexuality under wraps. In 2017, he married his partner Jeffrey Romley, who survives him.
“Thank the Lord that Sondheim lived to be 91 years old so he had the time to write such wonderful music and GREAT lyrics!” tweeted singer Barbra Streisand.
Actress and singer Lea Salonga, who was the first Asian woman to win a Tony for originating the lead role of the musical Miss Saigon, thanked Sondheim for his “vast contributions to musical theatre”.
“We shall be singing your songs forever. Oh, my heart hurts,” she wrote on Twitter.
From the Mediterranean to Europe — the complicated path of natural gas
PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource. The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime…
PARIS: As natural gas becomes one of the main energy sources across the world, the Middle East and North Africa region is witnessing a peak in the tensions surrounding this resource.
The decommissioning of the Algeria-Morocco gas pipeline, the repercussions of Turkey’s actions in the Mediterranean and problems related to the delineation of Lebanon’s maritime borders are among the many disputes.
The discovery and exploitation of new resources in the MENA region, like the regional crises, intensifies the tug-of-war surrounding gas. We see a complex interaction between energy and geopolitics, which are usually connected.
The Middle East’s gas reserves have been seeing the fastest growth in the world since 2009. These “proven” gas reserves (the quantity of hydrocarbon resources that can be extracted from a field with a reasonable level of certainty, NDLR) have soared to 40.4 percent in 2020, compared to 31.4 percent in 2000.
In conjunction with the development of natural gas in the region, we are witnessing an increase in the battles and showdowns taking place. This energy resource, which is far from appearing as an element that promotes cooperation, has indeed become a factor causing tensions.
The consequences of the decommissioning of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline
Following the breakdown of diplomatic relations between Algiers and Rabat last August, Algeria continued to retaliate against its neighbor, putting an end to 25 years of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline service — the operations contract ended on Oct. 31, 2021.
However, this decision affecting Morocco is also contributing to disrupting an already unstable regional context (from Libya to Mali, passing through Tunisia). It might also affect Spain, which, like a good portion of Europe, is threatened by a gas crisis attributed to Moscow, especially as this pipeline represents the main source of the country’s natural gas supply.
At first glance, it was a severe blow for Spain because Algeria is its main natural gas provider, supplying half of its yearly natural gas consumption: Madrid would have experienced a significant increase in the prices of gas as well as electricity. To avoid such a scenario, Algiers proposed to “continue to ensure, in a better way, the delivery of gas through Medgaz, according to a well-defined schedule.” The submarine natural gas pipeline Medgaz, which was inaugurated in 2004, directly connects the two countries.
However, some people doubt that this alternative will be sufficient to cover Spain’s needs. The capacity of the Medgaz pipeline is lower than that of the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline: It delivers about 8 billion cubic meters a year, while the capacity of the decommissioned gas pipeline was 10 billion cubic meters a year. Algiers is therefore relying on “the recent project to extend the capacity of the Medgaz pipeline.”
Ultimately, Algeria’s decision will greatly affect the economy of Morocco, as the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline supplied the production of electricity in Morocco before reaching its final destination in Spain. Some statistics show that Morocco used to produce almost 17 percent of its electricity through this channel. Morocco will also lose the transit-related taxes (between €50 and 150 million a year).
In addition, it will not be easy for Morocco to find an alternative to supply itself with gas. The options are currently limited and uncertain.
On the other side of the Arab world, the situation seems less tense.
The gas issue in Syria, Turkey’s greed and the commissioning of the Arab gas pipeline
For several weeks now, the focus has been on restarting the “Arab gas pipeline” from Egypt toward Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. This phase is taking place with the initial approval of the US (to make an exception regarding the Caesar Act, which imposes sanctions on Damascus) in conjunction with the arrival of Iranian diesel to Lebanon based on Hezbollah’s initiative. It is also considered an entry point for a partial normalization of ties with the Syrian regime.
Since the multifaceted Syrian conflict started, natural gas has been perceived as an indirect cause of the Russian intervention. After that, there has always been a certain connection between the continuity of the military presence of the US and eastern Syria, which is rich in energy resources.
Consequently, gas will undoubtedly have an impact on the shape of the future map of Syria as well as the maps of the new Middle East.
In a wider context, the contemporary theories of strategic security highlight the importance of energy not only from an economic perspective, but also as a trigger of conflicts and a power elements indicator of the countries of origin, the countries through which the pipelines pass and the downstream countries. In any new process of delineation or demarcation of borders, it is highly probable that the energy resources of gas, oil and water will be taken into account.
Within the wide geographical range of the map of gas fields, markets and passage routes of pipelines, Syria occupies a significant position because it is located at the heart of the Levant, while its seas and coasts, like the rest of the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean basin, are rich in energy resources.
In addition, gas could become an important pillar of the economies of numerous Arab and Mediterranean countries, which could provide Israel with the opportunity to integrate economically into the regional economy. This evolution would naturally become a source of worry for Iran and Qatar when it comes to their role as pioneers of the gas market. It would also have the ability to unsettle Turkey, which could lose its status as a crossroads to ensure exportation; this country is the point of arrival of pipelines and gas pipelines.
In a broader context, we should point to the emergence of the East Mediterranean Gas Forum in 2020, which comprises seven countries: Egypt, Israel, Cyprus, Greece, Jordan, Palestine and Italy (with the US, the EU and France as observers). This was the culmination of efforts exerted by the forum, which was established in 2015 under the same name. Egypt became a new leader in gas; this was enough for Ankara to see it as an attempt to intimidate it due to the disputes that are either territorial or based on the region’s wealth. This was the case particularly after the signing of several bilateral agreements aimed at delineating the maritime borders, such as the agreements signed between Egypt and Greece or between Greece and Italy.
During this period, litigation and disputes related to the exploration rights in the Eastern Mediterranean basin intensified. These developments were preceded by a Turkish advance in the Eastern and Western Mediterranean, which defined the maritime borders with Libya, or through the disputed fields over which it is at odds with Cyprus and Greece.
Last year also saw the resumption of negotiations aimed at delineating the maritime borders between Lebanon and Israel. Several gas fields are involved, particularly block 9, which is at the center of a dispute between the two countries.
We can conclude that relaunching the idea of the Arab gas pipeline after two decades would be beneficial for the concerned parties, especially for a country such as Lebanon. However, it cannot take place without a tentative agreement or mutual consent between the major regional actors and a certain American-Russian agreement.
• This story originally appeared in French on Arab News en Francais