Clinical trials are showing promise for an experimental drug to treat genital herpes, a common, highly contagious, and incurable infection usually spread through sexual contact. The drug, called pritelivir, was found to substantially decrease “viral shedding,” which is the amount of time the virus was active and potentially transmissible to sexual partners.
Genital herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus, most often from a strain known as HSV-2. The infection can cause painful sores around the genitals, rectum or mouth, which can be reactivated periodically. Sometimes people experience no symptoms or only mild ones, however the disease can be dangerous if passed from a mother to a newborn. In rare cases, HSV invades the brain and can cause serious inflammation.
There is no cure for genital herpes. Currently, there are three medications used to treat symptoms and suppress outbreaks. Those medications are intended to be used daily however they do not stop viral shedding and only cut transmission rates by about half. Patients can also develop viral resistance to the medications.
Pritelivir is in a different class of medication, which offers hope for new treatment for patients suffering from this lifelong condition.
The study followed 156 patients with HSV-2 infections over a four-week period. Each was randomly assigned to one of five groups with one group receiving a placebo and the four other groups receiving different doses of pritelivir. During the 28 days, patients on the highest dose (75 mg per day) showed the biggest effects – with viral shedding on just 2 percent of those days as opposed to 17 percent in the placebo group. Another group, given a 400 mg dose once a week, also showed promising results. No significant side effects were reported.
Researchers pointed out that the study was very small and should be considered preliminary. More research is needed to better determine the safety and efficacy of the drug.