Associated Press Writer
TAIPEI, Taiwan—A Taiwanese government-funded research team Tuesday unveiled a chemical compound that it says can kill swine flu and bird flu viruses in the environment to help prevent their spread.
The National Taiwan University team said the compound — which it has named "VirusBom" — can be made into a hand wash, a spraying agent or integrated into fabrics like facial masks to effectively kill a variety of viruses.
The NTU announcement comes amid the rapid spread of the swine flu virus. More than 98,000 cases have already been recorded worldwide, and more than 700 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
The head of Taiwan's Centers for Disease Control said independent tests would be needed to confirm VirusBom's effectiveness, but noted the NTU team had an impressive track record.
C.K. Lee, a professor of engineering science who leads the NTU team, described the chemical as "a simple, organic compound" developed through "synthetic methodology" in the lab. He refused to give details, saying the team is applying for patents in Taiwan and the United States.
Lee said "VirusBom" differed from ordinary antiseptics on the market such as Purell because it specifically targets the swine and bird flu viruses while other products do not.
"This particular compound prevents the virus (from) entering your body to interact with your immune system," he said. "All types of viruses, the swine flu, bird flu and intestinal diseases collapse" after being exposed to the compound, he said.
In a rare scientific breakthrough, he said a dose of between 30 and 300 ppm (parts per million) of the compound can break up the virus and kill it without causing any damage to human cells.
The compound has the potential to be developed into a drug, which would require a dose lower than 3 ppm to work in the human body, he said.
The team has transferred the technology to a local drug maker, and mass production could begin after health and environmental regulators approve it, officials said.
"The rapid spread of the H1N1 virus in the world could speed up the commercialization of the technology, but I cannot say when a product will be available," Lee said.
Team members said tests showed the compound works more effectively than alcohol or detergents because VirusBom can last 24-48 hours on doorknobs, keyboards and cell phones and at least five minutes on hands.
Steve Kuo, head of Taiwan's Center for Disease Control, said tests by an independent party would be needed to verify VirusBom's effectiveness. Animal tests are not needed because the compound only works in the environment, he said.
"But it's a solid team whose technologies have been acknowledged, and we would be glad to see if the compound can be made inexpensive and easy to use, for instance after dissolving it in water," Kuo said.
The National Taiwan University team developed a compound to kill the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus six years ago. It was found to be effective but never put into use because the epidemic had run its cycle by then, Kuo said.