A new broad-spectrum method has been discovered to treat the human herpes virus, according to a new study published in PLOS Pathogens.

Herpes virus infections are lifelong with latency periods between recurring reactivations, which makes treatment difficult, according to the study. All existing antiviral drugs available to treat the infection lead to rapid development of resistance in patients with compromised immune systems. It is in this population, which includes newborn children, patients with HIV, and cancer, where the need for herpes treatment is the greatest, according to the study authors. 

The novel treatment targets physical properties in the genome of the virus rather than the virus itself, according to the study. Researchers identified small molecules that were able to penetrate the virus and “turn off” the pressure in the genome of the virus without damaging the cell. This antiviral treatment works with all the viruses within the herpes family since they all have similar structures and physical properties, the study noted. 

According to the researchers, the herpes virus is a thin protein shell that contains the genome. It is tightly packed with genetic material, meaning it has a high internal pressure. The antiviral effect of this treatment is several times higher than the standard treatment against certain herpes types with the antiviral drug aciclovir. Researchers found that the treatment is also effective against strains for which aciclovir does not work.   

"The pressure is 20 atmospheres, which is four times higher than in a champagne bottle and this allows herpes viruses to infect a cell by ejecting its genes at high speed into the cell nucleus after the virus has entered the cell. The cell is then tricked into becoming a small virus factory that produces new viruses that can infect and kill other cells in the tissue, leading to different disease states,” associate professor and senior lecturer at Lund University Alex Evilevitch, PhD, said in the press release.

This study is the first step toward developing a drug that can stop infection for all types of herpes virus, including the resistant strains, the researchers said, and positive preliminary data have already proved promising. 

Reference:
Antiviral method against herpes paves the way for combatting incurable viral infections (News release) Lund, Sweden July 24, 2020, EurekAlert!, Accessed July 28, 2020