Dengue fever is a mosquito borne illness that is widespread, especially in tropical countries. The global incidence of dengue fever has increased dramatically over the past decade with current estimates reporting that, worldwide, there are 390 million dengue fever infections each year. Of these infections, 96 million individuals show clinical symptoms, and the number of deaths hovers around 5000 per year. Because of this, in 2019, the World Health Organization included dengue fever in its list of top ten threats to global health. The symptoms of dengue fever include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes, muscle and joint pains, and nausea and vomiting. If symptoms persist, dengue can become fatal from fluid accumulation, respiratory distress, severe bleeding, or organ failure.
Past work from pharmaceutical companies has focused on finding a vaccine to prevent dengue fever. However, the current dengue vaccines are not widespread and accessible for all and it is currently only recommended for individuals who have previously been infected with dengue to prevent another infection. Recently, researchers from the KU Leuven Rega and the Centre for Drug Design and Discovery (CD3) have developed the first antiviral pill that can treat Dengue Fever.
The research was reported earlier this month in the journal Nature and details the researcher’s work creating a drug that blocks the ability of the dengue virus to replicate and produce more viral particles. The drug achieves this by inhibiting the interaction of two viral proteins that are responsible for copying and replicating the genetic material of the virus. After creating the drug, the researchers then tested the drug in mice who were experimentally infected with the dengue virus.
Several important findings came out of the research. First, the researchers found that the drug worked to prevent the replication of the dengue virus in the experimental mice and that this was achieved with even the lowest dose of the drug. Second, in a subset of mice, the researchers allowed the virus to replicate and reach peak levels in the mice. Importantly, when the virus reached peak levels, the drug was then administered, and even when treatment started after viral load was high, the drug resulted in a significant and rapid reduction in virus particles in the blood. Third, the drug was also effective at preventing viral infection. This is an important aspect of the novel drug, as Professor Johan Neyts, a lead author on the study said, “potent and safe dengue drugs that can be easily taken as tablets could offer anyone effective protection for a certain period of time.” The researchers are continuing the research to create a compound that can be tested in humans.