Recent progress in antiviral therapy
Viral infections remain a major public health threat worldwide. The first highly selective antiviral agent that became available was acyclovir. The HIV pandemic boosted the development of potent inhibitors against this retrovirus. Highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART) now allows patients to live with HIV without developing AIDS. Highly effective therapy is also available for the treatment of infections with hepatitis B virus which encodes, like HIV, a reverse transcriptase. In 2011, the first two specific hepatitis C virus inhibitors were approved. The treatment of HCV infections is expected to evolve in the next years to an all oral interferon-free therapy that result in a high cure rate. Thus progress achieved in the antiviral field during the last decades allowed to save and will continue to save the lives of millions.
Neuraminidase inhibitors, when given early after infection, are efficient to reduce the severity of infections with the influenza virus. These drugs may also help to control to some extent potential future pandemics. Novel influenza inhibitors are however urgently needed; some are currently in clinical development. Lately there are serious efforts to develop drugs for the treatment of infections with respiratory syncytial virus and for the treatment and prophylaxis of infections with rhinoviruses; the latter can cause severe exacerbations of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
For many other, often life threatening viral infections including flaviviruses (dengue, Japanese encephalitis…), rabies, enteroviruses (such as EV71) and hemorrhagic fever viruses (such as Ebola), the development of antivirals is highly desirable. Some viruses, such as the foot and mouth disease virus and the Rift Valley Fever virus are highly infectious for livestock and outbreaks may cause enormous economic losses. Antiviral strategies may help to rapidly contain such outbreaks This conference will gather experts from various disciplines (virologists, chemists, infectiologists, epidemiologists and veterinarians) who will draw lessons from the recent developments and new achievements in the field of antiviral therapy.
The most vulnerable patients often live in remote places or have limited resources and access to health structures requires. Strong capacity-building efforts are therefore needed. The development costs of drugs are very high. Ideally broad-spectrum antiviral drugs should be developed that can be used for the treatment of various viral infections for which a specific therapy will unlikely ever become available. The 4th Christophe Mérieux conference will be an excellent forum to discuss these challenges.