The research team at AiCuris Anti-infective Cures GmbH has won the German Future Prize 2018 for developing a drug that protects organ transplant patients from cytomegalovirus (CMV). Founded in 2006, the company was established as a spinoff from Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant.
The CMV drug
Patients suffering from blood cancers usually resort to bone marrow transplantation as a last-ditch effort to recover. During the process, the patient’s bone marrow and cancer cells are first destroyed. And then, bone marrow from the donor is transplanted into the person. However, doctors typically switch off the patient’s immune system when carrying out this procedure. If the patient is a carrier of CMV, there is a high risk of infection and eventual death. The drug developed by AiCuris seeks to remedy this issue.
“The innovative drug developed by the AiCuris team offers for the first time the possibility of a prophylactic treatment against CMV infections. Its active substance Letermovir belongs to a new chemical class and thus uniquely differs from all substances previously used against CMV infections. The drug is, therefore, not simply another development, but works via a completely new mechanism: It attacks a virus-specific structure, which does not naturally occur in the human body, and thus prevents the replication and therewith the spreading of the virus,” according to Market Watch.
The drug may also be useful in patients undergoing kidney transplants. If pregnant women carry CMV, the drug can ensure that their baby does not suffer from any nervous system damage. As per estimates, about 60,000 patients receive bone marrow transplants every year, with 40,000 patients endangered by the virus. Given these numbers, AiCuris is confident that their new drug will help save several lives. In addition to Letermovir, the company has several other drugs in various stages of development.
“AIC316 (Pritelivir), a helicase-primase inhibitor, being developed to treat herpes simplex virus Type 1 (HSV-1) and Type 2 (HSV-2) infections completed Phase 2 testing in labial herpes and an additional Phase 2 trial in acyclovir resistant infections is ongoing. Two more clinical stage compounds against HBV and bacterial infections are currently in phase 1 testing,” according to AiCuris.
Cytomegalovirus is a very common virus that can infect anyone at any stage in their lives. Once infected, not only does the virus remain in the body, but the person is unaware they have CMV. As explained earlier, the virus kicks in only when the immune system is weakened. It usually spreads person-to-person through the exchange of body fluids like saliva, semen, blood, breast milk, and urine.
People with weakened immunity who are affected with CMV infection can experience loss of vision and inflammation of the eye layer that senses light. Problems with the nervous system will emerge, including brain inflammation. Pneumonia is also possible. Digestive issues can include inflammation of the colon, liver, and esophagus. In infants, signs of CMV infection usually involve intellectual disability, seizures, hearing loss, muscle weakness, and a lack of coordination.
As a precaution, always practice safe sex, avoid sharing food or water with others from the same plate or glass, and wash your hands at regular intervals. Plus, beware of disposable items like tissues and diapers that have been contaminated with bodily fluids.