Scientists from Hera Therapeutics, part of the Janssen Labs under the Johnson & Johnson’s external R&D engine, presented results suggesting that its small molecule HTI-1968 has potential as a direct-acting antiviral therapy against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
According to the results of clinical studies conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, HTI-1968 blocked the replication of HPV-11, HPV-16, and HPV-18 subtypes in cultured human cell models. If the initial results of the studies are further verified, HTI-1968 could be used, not as a prophylactic measure, but as a potential treatment for the disease, which has no cure. The scientists presented the results at the 29th Annual International Papillomavirus Conference.
Human papilloma virus is the leading sexually transmitted infection in the U.S. with approximately 6.2 million newly infected people every year. Though there are over 40 subtypes of HPV, the two subtypes 16 and 18 are responsible for infection in the genital area and 70 percent of all cervical cancers. As of present, there is no approved antiviral therapy for the disease, and vaccination rates in the U.S. currently remain low, a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study reported. While there are increases in the number of teens receiving at least one dose of the three-dose HPV vaccine regimen, the percent of those receiving all three recommended doses was only 38 percent for girls and 14 percent for boys.
There are several vaccines on the market today for the prevention of HPV, including Merck’s Gardasil and GlaxoSmithKline’s Cervarix. However, these vaccines cannot protect people after they are infected with the disease. Karl Hostetler, an emeritus professor of medicine at UC San Diego, founder and CEO of Hera Therapeutic, mentioned that some studies suggest HPV vaccines lack efficacy once people become sexually active.
Regarding HTI-1968’s potential as an HPV anti-viral therapy, Hostetler commented, “It’s early, so we shouldn’t hype it too much. But the antiviral studies look pretty good.” The company said it expects to conduct pre-clinical studies in coming years to develop the small molecule as a topical treatment for chronic infections caused by HPV subtypes 16 and 18. These are the subtypes that lead to cancer by their production of oncoproteins. Hostetler said that if the virus could be eliminated through early intervention, it would not have the chance to develop into cancer.