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05/11/06 - NanoVir Scientists Make Discovery of Potential New Treatment for Human Papillomavirus

May 11, 2006
Scientists from the University of Missouri-St. Louis and NanoVir announced today the identification of a potential new treatment to fight the virus that causes cervical cancer, the second leading killer of women by cancer worldwide.

James Bashkin and Chris Fisher presented their findings at the International Conference for Antiviral Research in San Juan, Puerto Rico. They have been seeking antiviral compounds that specifically target human papillomavirus (HPV) 16, the viral type most often associated with cervical cancer. Targeting the DNA of HPV rather than more traditional antiviral targets, the scientists identified a series of compounds that dramatically reduce the viral DNA load of cells harboring the virus.

The research, funded by the National Institutes of Health, was conducted by scientists from UMSL and NanoVir, a Kalamazoo, Mich.-based biotechnology company.

"We believe that antivirals for HPV represent an important alternative for treatment of people with persistent HPV infections," said Chris Fisher, co-founder of NanoVir and lead biologist on the project. "This approach offers an excellent complement to the HPV vaccines currently under development."

There currently are few antiviral treatments for HPV16, the primary cause of a positive Pap smear and the virus that causes more than half the deaths attributed to cervical cancer.

James Bashkin, co-founder of NanoVir and associate research professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UMSL, served as lead chemist on the project. He's excited about the implications of the work.

"It's been a wonderful example of how powerful the direct collaboration of chemists and biologists can be," Bashkin said. "Because of the collaboration, we have been able to make unexpected discoveries in both chemistry and biology, and to apply them rapidly to a much needed therapeutic area."

In laboratory tests, the scientists compared their experimental compounds to two other drugs used to treat resistant HPV infections; in both cases the experimental compounds outperformed alternative treatments.

According to Fisher and Bashkin, current approaches to treatment of the cancer causing forms of HPV have primarily focused on vaccines, which have shown great efficacy in human trials. However, the HPV vaccines offer no hope to women or men already infected with HPV.

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