Researchers at Missouri’s Saint Louis University (SLU) — hoping to advance understanding on how hepatitis B virus (HBV) replicates — aim to develop a new drug that could cure this viral infection. John Tavis, PhD, professor of molecular microbiology and immunology, will conduct the project based on his team’s findings, with the support of a $416,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
“This research is a result of 25 years of background studies in basic science funded by the NIH,” Tavis said in a press release.
HBV replicates by reverse transcription, a process that converts viral DNA into RNA and then back to DNA, by two important viral enzymes. Most current drugs work by inhibiting the first of these enzymes. Tavis has worked to attempt to inhibit the second one, called ribonuclease H (RNaseH).
This new project is based on data from two previous studies: one providing support for ongoing anti-RNaseH drug discovery efforts, and a second one valuing the synergistic and additive effects of the antiviral activity of the combination of RNaseH inhibitors with other HBV drugs.
The first study, “Purification and enzymatic characterization of the hepatitis B virus ribonuclease H, a new target for antiviral inhibitors,” appeared in Antiviral Research. The second, “Synergistic Interactions between Hepatitis B Virus Ribonuclease H Antagonists and Other Inhibitors,” appeared in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
Findings from the two studies indicate that RNaseH inhibitors could be a potential new therapeutic approach for hepatitis B.
Current HBV drugs can reduce the number of viruses per drop of blood, make symptoms disappear for years, and push the infection to the brink of extinction. But no medications can kill the virus completely, and as long as the virus remains in the patient’s body, it can multiply if the patient stops taking medication.
This makes treatment last for decades. Patients who can afford it must spend $400 to $600 on drugs. Those who can’t afford it often do not receive any treatment at all, or receive it only for a short period of time. Researchers hope this new treatment approach could change the status quo.
Tavis will partner on this project with Marvin Meyers, PhD, co-principal investigator and director of medicinal chemistry at Saint Louis University’s Center for World Health and Medicine.