October has been a kind month to Viral Therapeutics Inc. (VTI).

Just six years since it filed for a U.S. patent covering its proprietaryHIV cofactor, that patent, No. 5,567,805, issued today. Its title:"Peptide inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus-mediated cellkilling blocks virus interaction with a novel cellular receptor."

And on Oct. 1, VTI received an $80,000 Small Business InnovativeResearch (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health.

"That grant," said virologist/immunologist Lee Henderson, the firm'spresident and CEO, "is for development of a high-throughput assayfor antiviral drug discovery. Under it," Henderson told BioWorldToday, "we have certain technologies from New England NuclearCorp., of Boston. That's for capture of whole cells in order to usedetection-type technologies to quantify cell-surface events, foreventual clinical application.

"In fact," he continued, "we're applying this to a whole series ofviruses to enable us to put together assays for looking at binding andentry events in a number of virus families, including hepatitis C,herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus.

Ithaca, N.Y.-based VTI's long-range prospective scenario for clinicalapplication is to develop a drug to treat not only acute viral infection,preventing spread, but also therapy for chronically infectedindividuals, particularly HIV, over a long term.

Henderson is the new patent's lead inventor. "It speaks to theinteraction of the HIV envelope transmembrane glycoprotein gp41with any cellular protein, inclusive of G-protein-coupled receptors.We envisioned at the time that this was probably a family of cellularreceptors," Henderson said.

It was indeed; in fact, a super-family.

In May and June, molecular biologist Edward Berger at the NationalInstitute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) announceddiscovery of two such cell-fusion-facilitating HIV receptors _ fusinand CKR5. (See BioWorld Today, May 13 and June 21, 1996, p. 1.)

"The one receptor sequence we have for gp41," Henderson said, "isnot identical to fusin, but appears to be a distinctly different protein.It is very complementary in the sense that it's a very complexproblem, and being able to develop a drug is really going to requirethe coordinated efforts of a lot of people." n

-- David N. Leff Science Editor

(c) 1997 American Health Consultants. All rights reserved.