A potentially groundbreaking new treatment for herpes could be nigh, according to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The study, which is detailed in the journal Science Translational Medicine, reports that researchers have discovered that a drug molecule known as BX795 is effective in temporarily clearing the herpes virus in the cornea. Authors of the study are also hopeful that it could prove successful in treating other forms of the virus, such as oral and genital herpes as well as other viruses like HIV.
The authors say this is especially promising for those who have developed a resistance to other currently available drugs that treat HSV-1. The way it works is different from available medicines in that it doesn't target the infection itself but rather targets the host cells to help them clear the virus. "We have needed alternative drugs that work on new targets for a very long time, because patients who develop resistance" to existing drugs have few effective treatment options, study author Deepak Shukla, the Marion Schenk professor of ophthalmology and professor of microbiology and immunology at the UIC College of Medicine, said in a press release.
As the drug targets a common pathway that many viruses use to replicate inside the cell, Shukla added that it could also act as a "new kind of broad-spectrum antiviral," meaning it could be used to treat a wide range of viruses including HSV-2 (which primarily affects the genitals) and HIV. However, he notes that they have not yet tested BX795 on viruses other than HSV-1.
BX795 proved successful in temporarily clearing the infection in cultured human corneal cells in donated human corneas and in the corneas of mice infected with the virus, according to the study. Interestingly, the authors say their findings were unexpected because BX795 is commonly known as an inhibitor of an enzyme called TBK1, which, when suppressed in cells, actually promotes infection. When they added a higher concentration of BX795 to the cultured human corneal cells infected with the virus, though, they found that the infection actually cleared. What's more, the outcome was the same in intact human corneas as well as in mice eyes infected with HSV-1.
They also discovered that quite a low concentration of BX795 is needed to clear the infection — much lower than the concentration required in other similar drugs. Additionally, they found no negative side effects in cells that were not infected with the virus.
Researchers are hoping that the study can move to a clinical trial soon and that it will be successful in treating other forms of herpes and HIV as well. Allure reached out to the authors of the study for further information and will update this piece as we learn more.
(UPDATE: February 16, 2018 6:00 P.M. EST): We now have more details surrounding the promising new drug for herpes known as BX795, which researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago found to be successful in clearing HSV-1 from eyes. They believe it could also work against other forms of herpes, as well as potentially work as a broad-spectrum anti-viral drug that fights a wide range of infections, including HIV. Here's what we know.
According to an email study author Deepak Shukla sent Allure, he and his team are hoping to move the drug to the clinical trial stage in two to three years and already have preliminary data suggesting the treatment will work against genital herpes, too. They also believe that because it targets a host molecule instead of a viral molecule, it has a high chance of inhibiting HIV infections. Even better: The drug could have potential in treating HPV, too, according to Shukla. "It should work against HPV as well, because AKT phosphorylation is needed for the virus to replicate," Shukla explained. "Our drug reduces AKT phosphorylation, therefore, it should be very effective against HPV too."
As of now, Shukla says they have not noticed any negative side effects from the dosage they're using, which is applied topically (though they're currently working on developing an oral formulation, as well). What's also exciting is that Shukla claims that BX795's effects may last longer than those of existing drugs, since BX795 targets a host molecule rather than the infection itself. "Our drug defines an entirely new class of anti-HSV antivirals. It is likely to succeed where existing drugs fail due to [the] emergence of viral resistance against them," Shukla says. "Our study already shows that our drug is highly effective against an acyclovir-resistant strain." (Acyclovir is a common anti-viral drug.)
According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 90 percent of adults have been exposed to the virus by age 50, a fact that Shukla also pointed out. Hopefully, this exciting discovery will mean better care for people with HSV. As for when the drug will be widely available, Shukla says it all depends on FDA approval, but ideally, the hope is to have a topical version of the drug on the market within three years.
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