One pill could potentially treat everything from cold sores to cancer

Worldwide Cancer Research scientists Professor Adrian Whitehouse and Dr Richard Foster at the University of Leeds have identified a compound which potentially blocks all eight types of the human herpes virus.

Herpes viral infections are extremely common.  While most are harmless, a variety are responsible for a staggering number of human diseases, from cold sores, to chicken pox and glandular fever, all the way up to lymphoma and several types of rare cancer.

There are currently no effective treatments, but new research published in Nature Microbiology shows that we may be a step closer to one day having a cure for all these viral infections.

The researchers started by focusing on one type of herpes virus called KSHV. KSHV causes three types of cancer including Kaposi’s sarcoma, a rare form which can affect people with repressed immune systems.

KSHV often lies dormant for years without causing problems but under certain conditions the virus can become active. It then multiplies and spreads throughout the body by hijacking human cell machinery and using it to make more and more copies of itself, then bursting the cells to escape.

Blocking the virus from replicating is therefore a potential way to contain the infection.

The team were able to zero in on a group of proteins inside human cells which KSHV uses to reproduce. These proteins, called TREX, help transport viral genetic material outside of the human cell nucleus where it is used to construct new virus particles.

Targeting TREX is complicated so the researchers focussed on another protein, UAP56, which helps TREX assemble and stay together.

Dr Richard Foster and his group performed a virtual screen of thousands of compounds to identify blockers of UAP56.

Subsequent analysis in the lab a left just one, most promising, candidate. The new compound, CCT018159, not only stuck to and blocked UAP56 and TREX in the test tube, it also prevented the KSHV virus from replicating inside human cells growing in petri dishes, effectively ‘curing’ the infection.

Further testing suggested it might also work against a range of other herpes viruses which use the same mechanism to replicate in cells.

So do we have a drug to cure all herpes infections?

Professor Whitehouse explained: “Although CCT018159 is a promising lead, it should be treated as a proof-of-principle, and a starting point for the development of UAP56-specific antivirals.  We still have a lot of work to do and other factors such as potency, cost, ease of processing, and toxicity may ultimately end the CCT018159 journey further down the line.”

Dr Lara Bennett of Worldwide Cancer Research added “This research provides the first real evidence that it’s feasible to target and potentially cure a range of herpes virus infections with one drug. It’s this kind of pioneering research we need to keep supporting.

It takes us a step closer to the reality that one day, a new antiviral could be available to help everyone who needs it, whether it’s a teenager with a cold sore, a new baby with a viral infection, or a transplant patient with Kaposi’s sarcoma.”

Reference article: The full scientific article reference is: Schumann et al. Nature Microbiology, 2016; 2: 16201 DOI: 10.1038/nmicrobiol.2016.201.

The next stage, funded by, will work towards improving the effectiveness and safety of the compound.

Recent Issues