Hope for new antiviral drug against herpes

Bild: Colourbox

BMBF funds promising research group in Erlangen with over two million euros.

Herpes viruses are everywhere. Around 90 percent of the population are infected with herpes viruses, often without knowing and mostly without consequences. However, infection with a herpes virus can be life-threatening for babies or people with a weakened immune system. Suitable medication has not yet been developed that can treat these patients as quickly and effectively as possible. A research group led by Dr. Florian Full at the Institute of Clinical and Molecular Virology at Universitätsklinkum Erlangen at FAU is hoping to change this by developing a promising new approach. Their work, which will hopefully lead to the development of a new drug against herpes viruses, is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) over the next five years with up to 2.34 million euros.

Most people are infected with herpes viruses in early childhood. After a single infection, the viruses remain in the body for life. Among the nine types of herpes viruses is the herpes simplex virus which causes cold sores or fever blisters. The varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox and shingles, and the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever and is also involved in the development of numerous cancers, are also herpes viruses. Although infections with herpes viruses do not cause long-term health problems for most people, patients with severely compromised immune systems, such as after transplants, often have problems controlling the viruses. This can lead to serious organ damage and even death. Herpes viruses in newborns can lead to severe infections. If a newborn comes directly into contact with the aggressive virus during birth it can overpower their underdeveloped immune system and have life-threatening consequences.

Seemingly functionless protein could play a crucial role

The aim of the ‘Duxdrugs’ research group in Erlangen is to develop a new drug for treating herpes viruses, particularly by targeting the cellular protein DUX4. The research team has already proven that herpes viruses activate the DUX4 protein and use this protein to reproduce. DUX4 is used in early human embryonic development but it no longer has a function in adults, which makes it a promising candidate for antiviral drugs. ‘At the moment, there are only a handful of antiviral medications that can be used to treat herpes infections and they are usually only effective against specific herpes viruses,’ explains Dr. Full. ‘Our strategy is special as we are hoping to develop a drug that is widely effective and could theoretically be used against all human herpes viruses.’

Outstanding research environment

‘Our project benefits greatly from the outstanding research environment at Universitätsklinikum Erlangen and FAU,’ says Dr. Full He emphasises the important role of the Interdisciplinary Centre for Clinical Research (IZKF) in establishing the project: ‘Thanks to the support of the IZKF over the last three years, we were able to generate sufficient research results and win a competitive bid for a BMBF junior research group,’ reports Florian Full. His team will now receive funding of up to 2.34 million euros over the next five years from the BMBF funding measure ‘Junior research groups for infection research’.

Further information

Dr. Florian Full
Phone: +49 9131 8526783