Friday, January 7, 2011

Secrets of the 70s: Genital Herpes
Part Two: Relief for the Afflicted

In 1977 a paper written by Gertrude Elion and her colleagues at the Burroughs-Wellcome Company in Research Triangle Park in North Carolina appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In the paper, Elion described a novel compound, 9-(2-hydroxyethoxymethyl) guanine, or ‘acycloguanosine’,  as an inhibitor of herpes virus replication in cultured cells. This was the among the first reports of an effective antiviral compound, and the discovery of what would come to be called ‘acyclovir’ (among other work) would earn Gertrude Elion the Novel Prize in 1988.

chemical structure of acyclovir

By 1979 acyclovir (also referred to as aciclovir) was being experimentally tested in human patients receiving the drug intravenously (de Miranda et al. 1979, Clin. Pharmacol. Ther.), and by the early 80s clinical trials were underway,  with the drug being administered orally as  200 mg capsules taken 5 – 10 times a day (True and Carter, 1984, Clin. Pharm.).

Not only did acyclovir reduce the intensity and duration of herpes lesions, but it could also suppress reactivation of the virus. The drug was effective in immunocompromised individuals, including AIDS patients, who were suffering from disseminated herpes infections. Side effects were minimal.

In due course, in 1984 the FDA approved Zovirax ointment, a cream containing a 5 % concentration of acyclovir, as well as oral formulations of Zovirax, for treatment of genital herpes.

At last, relief was at hand !

Fast forward to today. Valtrex (valacyclovir), a more bioavailable variant of acyclovir, is widely advertised and seemingly the drug of choice for the Hollywood set

 chemical structure of valacyclovir

Somewhat disturbingly, even the participants in so-called ‘reality shows’ are gobbling Valtrex like it was candy. According to 'Jersey Shore' producer Sally Ann Salsano, "We hand it [Valtrex] out like M&Ms !" She adds that the show's set is a 'herpes nest'. 

People in the 21st century can rejoice in the advances of modern medicine, something unavailable, an impossible dream, to those legions of 70s swingers.

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