New Hope For Sufferers of Genital Herpes

Over the years, genital herpes has grown increasingly resistant to the drugs that millions of Americans use to treat the sexually transmitted disease each year. But once again, science is saving the day. (Or, at least, creating new drugs for us to become resistant to.) An experimental new drug named pritelivir has seen success in treating genital herpes in early research. It's one of the first in a new class of drugs that would treat the disease in a different way from existing meds. Designed to make genital herpes less contagious and inactive for longer, the study indicated pritelivir to be both fast-moving and effective.

A quick fact-sheet on genital herpes: It's common, affecting one of six Americans under the age of 50, and it's treatable but not curable. It's much more frequent in woman than in men — one in five women are sufferers, whereas the rate in men is about one in nine — because, as with any STD, women are more likely to catch something from an infected male than vice versa. (Science giveth, and science taketh away, eh?)

It can cause sore blisters in the last place you'd want them — though symptoms are often sneaky and very mild — plus it increase your chances of contracting HIV during sex if either partner is HIV-positive. And if a pregnant woman suffers from the disease and it's left untreated, it can prompt miscarriage or premature birth.

The current class of genital-herpes drugs, including acyclovir, valacyclovir, and famciclovir, treat a different part of the virus than pritelivir and other drugs in this new class. Current drugs also lacking in effectiveness, since they've been on the market for decades and have built up resistance.

In November, we learnt about HerpV, the "off-the-counter" vaccine still in trial mode that, if successful, would slow the release of the genital herpes virus, thus making the symptoms less severe and less likely to infect others. HerpV is still in mid-stage trials, but if it continues to show promise, it could usher in a new generation of genital-herpes treatment. In fact, when drug company Agenus Inc. announced successful trials, shares in the company skyrocketed by 32 percent.

And now there's pritelivir, which could be on the market in just a few years if it makes it through the rest of its trials. The first-stage findings were published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine, and utilized 156 patients. Experts cautioned that the research was small-scale and preliminary, but that the results was dramatic when compared to drugs on the market today.

"We're at the beginning of a new era," wrote Dr. Richard Whitley, of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, who published an editorial alongside the study's findings.