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Hepatitis C virus faces new weapon from Florida State scientists

In recent human trials for a promising new class of drug designed to target the hepatitis C virus (HCV) without shutting down the immune system, some of the HCV strains being treated exhibited signs of drug resistance.

In response, an interdisciplinary team of Florida State University biologists, chemists and biomedical researchers devised a novel genetic screening method that can identify the drug-resistant HCV strains and the molecular-level mechanisms that make them that way helping drug developers to tailor specific therapies to circumvent them.

The potentially life-saving technology also works when screening other viruses with drug-resistance issues, notably human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and influenza.

More than 170 million people worldwide are infected with HCV, which leads to both acute and chronic liver diseases.

"In collaboration with pharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences and researchers from the University of Heidelberg (Germany), what our research team discovered was how the latest drug for HCV works and what changes in the virus that makes it resistant to this unique therapy," said Hengli Tang, a Florida State University molecular biologist.

"This is knowledge that is essential to drug developers focused on HCV," said Tang, "but equally important is that our method, which we call 'CoFIM' (Cofactor-independent mutant) screening, can also be applied to other drug targets and other viruses.

"And, since we now understand how this latest class of drug works and what causes resistance to it, we can better select other classes of drugs with distinct mechanisms in other words, those that target other parts of the virus in order to craft a combination therapy, which is the future of HCV therapy and the key to overcoming drug resistance."

The groundbreaking research is described in a paper published online in the September 2010 issue of the journal PLoS Pathogens.


Contact: Hengli Tang
Florida State University

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