The coronavirus is more likely than SARS to bond to human cells due to an HIV-like mutation, according to new research.
The research by scientists in China and Europe was detailed in a Thursday report by the South China Morning Post.
The scientists found the virus' HIV-like mutation means the coronavirus' ability to bind with human cells could be up to 1,000 times as strong as the SARS virus.
"This finding suggests that 2019-nCoV [the new coronavirus] may be significantly different from the SARS coronavirus in the infection pathway," the scientists said in a paper published this month.
"This virus may use the packing mechanisms of other viruses such as HIV."
The scientists said SARS entered the human body by binding with the receptor protein, ACE2, on a cell membrane. Early studies indicated the coronavirus, which shares about 80% of the genetic structure of SARS, might follow a similar path.
However, the ACE2 protein is not found in large quantities in healthy people.
But other highly contagious viruses, including HIV and Ebola, target the furin enzyme, which works as a protein activator in the human body, the Post noted.
The researchers said drugs aimed at the furin enzyme could potentially hinder the replication of the virus in humans.
Meanwhile, researchers in the United States have begun human trials of remdesivir, a drug that could treat the coronavirus.
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