Why are antivirals so hard to develop?
With few good targets and limited financial incentives, the field of antiviral drug discovery has lagged. The COVID-19 pandemic might be awakening the world to the problem.
by Laura Howes, Chemical & Engineering News
Viruses are tricky. They’re small, mutate quickly, and make thousands and thousands of copies of themselves every day. Or rather, infected cells produce those new copies of the virus. Viruses can’t reproduce on their own—they sit inert until they can infect a cell.
And when it comes to finding drugs that can kill a virus, that’s part of the problem: viruses don’t have a lot of their own proteins and enzymes to target.
The handful of proteins and enzymes they do have might perform the same basic functions—allowing the virus to enter cells, replicate, and escape to do it all over again—but their sequences and structures differ even among viruses in the same class, let alone among families of viruses.
So even if you develop a drug against one virus, it is unlikely that you can use it to treat another. Add a lack of reliable animal models and a lack of investment, and it becomes clear that antiviral drug development is a complex problem.
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