PODCAST: Why are there so few drugs to treat viruses?

On the latest episode of Eavesdrop on Experts, A/Prof Stuart Ralph and Dr Craig Morton explain why we have effective drugs for bacterial diseases, but relatively few for combating viruses.

The discovery of antibiotics revolutionised medicine more than 100 years ago. Combined with vaccines, these effective treatments transformed human existence from one where infectious disease was the leading cause of death, to a world where most people die of age-related illness.

As the world watches coronavirus case numbers surge, people are asking why we have so many effective drugs for treating bacterial diseases, but relatively few for combating viruses?


Associate Professor Stuart Ralph of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Dr Craig Morton a Senior Research Fellow, based at the Bio21 Molecular Science & Biotechnology Institute, explain the science behind the global search for drugs to treat viruses, including COVID-19.

"There just aren’t that many different ways that we can think of to attack viruses. We’ve got lots and lots of drugs for parasites and bacteria, which have lots of potentially susceptible targets, but in the case of viruses, there aren’t that many things that they actually do," explains A/Prof Ralph.

"So we’re limited to a handful, maybe only a dozen, discrete processes that we can think of to interrupt, and that interruption would cause the virus to either stop replicating or our bodies to not get sick because they’ve got virus inside them."

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