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New Herpes Drug Clears Virus in Lab Study

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
New herpes drug shows promise

The old admonition that "love is fleeting, but herpes is forever" may need revising in the near future as scientists report success in clearing the herpes virus from cells in the lab.


A news release from the University of Illinois at Chicago delivers new hope for the millions of herpes sufferers in the world--scientists have discovered a small drug that can clear the HSV-1 infection in the cells of the human cornea.

Furthermore, the researchers believe this newly developed drug could be equally effective in treating herpes of the mouth and the genitals, and possibly even other viral infections like HIV.

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According to the news release, this is good news for many as herpes is the leading cause of infectious blindness in the U.S.:

"HSV-1 is one of the most common human pathogens, affecting between 50 percent and 90 percent of people worldwide. HSV-1 primarily infects the mouth and eyes, although genital cases of HSV-1 infection are on the rise. The virus is transmitted through bodily fluids. It establishes a lifelong infection that leads to sores in affected tissues when active and hides in nerve cells during its latent phase. The infection can be temporarily eliminated in the eye using oral and topical antiviral drugs, but inflammation of the cornea can persist indefinitely, requiring ongoing treatment with steroid-based eye drops. HSV-1 infection is a leading cause of infectious blindness in the U.S."

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The researchers report that this is a novel drug in that it approaches herpes from a different chemical perspective which offers patients with resistance to the current herpes meds a new alternative for treatment.

"We have needed alternative drugs that work on new targets for a very long time because patients who develop resistance to nucleoside analogs have very few good options for treating their infection," said Deepak Shukla, the Marion Schenk Professor of Ophthalmology and professor of microbiology and immunology in the UIC College of Medicine, and corresponding author on the paper. "We have found a molecule that works in a totally novel fashion. Instead of working on the virus, it works in the host cells and helps them to clear the virus."

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Reportedly, the discovery was happenstance as Dr. Shukla and his colleagues found that a drug molecule called BX795, which inhibits TBK1--an enzyme involved in innate immunity and leads to increased infection when suppressed--actually resulted in clearing of herpes infection when cultured human corneal cells were dosed higher than normal with BX795.

"This isn't what we expected," said Tejabhiram Yadavalli, a postdoctoral fellow studying herpes viruses at UIC and a co-author of the paper. "Instead of promoting infection, at higher concentrations, BX795 actually helped cells clear the infection."

"There was no discernable toxicity or negative side effects at therapeutic concentrations in cells that are not infected with the virus," Shukla said.

"Because BX795 targets a common pathway that many viruses use to replicate inside the cell, it could be a new kind of broad-spectrum antiviral that might be used to treat other viral infections, including HSV-2, which primarily affects the genitals, and HIV, although we have not yet tested it on viruses other than HSV-1."

Plans are underway to put BX795 into clinical studies to confirm its efficacy and safety in treating herpes infections.

"It will be very exciting to see if the study can move to a clinical trial soon," said Alex Agelidis, a graduate student at UIC and co-author on the paper. "Because of BX795's low toxicity, it has a great potential for systemic use as well as topical application."


University of Illinois at Chicago "A new class of drug to treat herpes simplex virus infection"

Science Translational Medicine, 2018; 10 (428) "An off-target effect of BX795 blocks herpes simplex virus type 1 infection of the eye" Dinesh Jaishankar et al.

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