While most anti-virals tend to target the virus itself, as in the case of influenza virus where there is rapid mutation, viruses are capable of finding ways to render the drug ineffective. If attacking the virus directly doesn't work, what could be another way of halting viral infection?
If we remember from class, viruses have tropogens which interact with host cell receptors to allow it to enter and infect the host cell. Since tropogens are easily mutated, drugs which target the other face of the coin, the host cell receptor, can be an effective way of preventing infection by viruses.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have taken just this approach when it comes to studying influenza infections. Rather than attack the virus, these researchers are testing the effect of silencing host cell genes - not just ones that code for proteins on the surface of the cell, but also proteins that can help the virus replicate inside the cell. By doing a wide screen of different genes that could possibly play a role in infection, the researchers were able to silence specific host cell genes to determine which ones are 1) the most important in infection and 2) non-essential and non-toxic to the host cell when silenced. After determining which genes are important, the scientists were then able to determine the role of the host cell protein during infection.
By studying these aspects of the interaction between host cell and virus, the researchers are able to look into drug prospects by choosing drugs which inhibit viral targets and look into the development of newer drugs that can inhibit other targets on the host cell.
Hopefully this is good news for the improvement of anti-viral drugs and anti-viral treatments!