A NEW study by researchers led by Oxford Brookes University has discovered a protein in coronavirus that acts as a ‘Trojan horse’ by hiding it from the human body’s natural immune system.

Scientists have also found a series of small molecules able to prevent it doing so, which could lead to a drug to treat patients.

Dr Victor Bolanos-Garcia, lead author and senior lecturer in clinical biochemistry at Brookes, said their research was an important avenue in fighting the virus outside of vaccines and could help those not protected by any successful jabs.

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He said: “Even if it’s a only a small percentage that still means hundreds of thousands of people. It may potentially also be able to be used in combination.”

The scientists have found an enzyme called NSP16, which allows the virus that causes Covid-19 to stay under the radar by chemically modifying its RNA, or genetic material. According to the team, this feature allows the virus to replicate in human cells and spread throughout the body. The researchers said they had also identified a series of small molecules which are able to inhibit the function of NSP16.

Dr Bolanos-Garcia explained although some drugs have been repurposed to aid treatment of Covid-19, effective drug therapies to combat the virus do not currently exist, saying: “Many viral diseases are treated with antiviral drugs."

He said stopping the enzyme from functioning leaves the virus RNA able to be fought by the body’s own immune system.