The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) supports research on genital herpes and HSV. Studies are currently underway to develop better treatments for the millions of people who suffer from genital herpes. While some scientists are carrying out clinical trials to determine the best way to use existing medicines, others are studying the biology of HSV. NIAID scientists have identified certain genes and enzymes (proteins) that the virus needs to survive. They are hopeful that drugs aimed at disrupting these viral targets might lead to the design of more effective treatments.
Meanwhile, other researchers are devising methods to control the virus’ spread. Two important means of preventing HSV infection are vaccines and topical microbicides.
Several different vaccines are in various stages of development. These include vaccines made from proteins on the HSV cell surface, peptides or chains of amino acids, and the DNA of the virus itself. NIAID and GlaxoSmithKline are supporting a large clinical trial in women of an experimental vaccine that may help prevent transmission of genital herpes. The Herpevac Trial is being conducted at more than 50 sites in the U.S. and Canada.
Topical microbicides, preparations containing microbe-killing compounds, are also in various stages of development and testing. These include gels, creams, or lotions that a woman could insert into the vagina prior to intercourse to prevent infection. The NIAID Sexually Transmitted Infections Clinical Trials Group is conducting a Phase 1 study to evaluate the safety of a microbicide gel to prevent genital herpes.
An NIAID-supported clinical trial demonstrated that once-daily suppressive therapy using valacyclovir significantly reduces risk of transmission of genital herpes to an uninfected partner. This is the first time an antiviral medication had been shown to reduce the risk of transmission of an STI. This strategy may contribute to preventing the spread of genital herpes.