Avila Therapeutics May Have Found “Achilles’ Heel” of Hepatitis C Virus

4/27/09

Avila Therapeutics emerged from stealth mode in December and told Xconomy about its secret sauce to systematically create permanent, covalent bonds with protein disease targets. Now the Waltham, MA-based biotech (pronounced AH-vill-uh) reports that its experimental drug for hepatitis C virus may be able to wipe out multiple variations and mutated forms of the virus.

The firm’s drug, dubbed AVL-181, is a small molecule protease inhibitor intended to silence a key protein for the survival and replication of the virus. The drug targets a region of the protein that the company believes is common among many known forms of the virus, even those that are resistant to standard treatments, meaning that the firm may have found an “Achilles’ heel” of the protein, says Nagesh Mahanthappa, vice president of business development and operations at the biotech. Over the weekend, the company presented results of a study, in which infected mice were treated with the drug, at the European Association for the Study of the Liver meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“When we look across all known published genetic sequences of the hepatitis C protease, from a variety of mutants, we find that the particular site where we get bond formation with our drug is constant,” Mahanthappa says. “It remains possible that that site is somehow critical for the protease’s normal function, or the general fitness of the virus.”

It’s early in the game to draw any conclusions about Avila’s hepatitis C drug, which to date hasn’t yet advanced to clinical trials. Yet the fact that the startup may have found a new weakness in the virus, making the drug effective across drug-resistant and mutated strains, could help the drug stand out among the 40-odd other hepatitis C treatments in development. With industry embracing a cocktail approach to treating the disease, Mahanthappa says, there’s a possibility that Avila’s drug could be useful in combination with other drugs to combat difficult-to-treat variations of hepatitis C, which is a chronic liver disease that affects … Next Page »

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