Antiviral Strategies

Viruses are obligatory intracellular parasites, whose replication depends on pathways and functions of the host cell. Consequently, it is difficult to define virus-specific functions as suitable targets for anti-infective therapy. However, significant progress has been made in the past 50 years towards the development of effective and specific antivirals. In particular, human immunodeficiency virus, hepatitis C virus, and hepatitis B virus, which cause chronic infections affecting millions of individuals world-wide, are a major focus of antiviral research. Initially, antivirals were mainly directed against virus-specific enzymes; more recently, drugs inhibiting the steps of virus entry or release have been developed. Rational approaches towards drug development, based on information about structure and function of viral proteins and molecular mechanisms of virus-host interactions, have become increasingly successful. Novel strategies currently explored in basic research or preclinical studies include approaches targeting host factors important for virus replication, the exploitation of the innate immune response system as well as the use of gene silencing strategies aimed at interfering with viral gene expression. Today, a number of effective virostatics targeting various viral replication steps are approved for treatment of important viral diseases. However, the use of these drugs is limited by the rapid development of antiviral resistance, which represents a central problem of current antiviral therapy.