Think about when you had to cancel going to a major party because of stomach flu. The viruses inside your belly are responsible for that.
Viruses are the villains that invade living cells. There they reproduce, and thus they are responsible for causing several diseases in the human body. Even though they are microscopic, they can sometimes be deadly!
To answer the question, the only remedy to drive viruses out of your body is taking antiviral drugs. Here’s where it gets tricky. Viruses replicate rapidly, which makes their biological structure differ from one another. Hence drug development is complex. More reasons will be further analyzed in this blog.
Reasons That Make Antiviral Drugs Pretty Difficult to Develop
The chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic died down after the invention of antiviral drugs and vaccines. However, it took years for chemists to find a remedy due to the unique structure of viruses. Some of the reasons are discussed below:
Viruses tend to change their biological form very quickly. They replicate into millions of clones of themselves in a handful of hours. Some of them also merge together to form a completely different version of a new virus by using a process called recombination.
Therefore, the same antiviral drug wouldn’t affect all sorts of viruses much. A specific antiviral drug can completely cure a person suffering from a disease in a couple of days. On the other hand, it can show a little change in the same person suffering from a different kind of viral disease. Some antiviral drugs even fail to work on some people.
Viruses also grow resistant to certain drugs as they mutate very rapidly. So, because of this dilemma and the lack of predictability, antiviral drugs take longer to develop.
Difficult to Target
Viruses reside in their host’s body. They absorb all the cell’s nutrients, and it eventually leads to their death. But first, they live inside their host for a long period of time and enjoy all the intracellular benefits.
Gradually, they decide to replicate by forming a great number of versions of themselves. Since they live inside cells, it is very difficult to pinpoint them and destroy them as the cells also get damaged during this process. Therefore, antiviral drugs are designed to detect a handful of proteins and enzymes that the viruses play with.
Here comes another problem; Some of these enzymes may sometimes match with the cell’s enzymes. So these drugs have a high probability of affecting living cells. Hence, it takes a lot of time to learn and develop antiviral drugs in a way that kills off only the viruses instead of any cells.
Sometimes, specific viruses, such as HIV, can enter a new phase called “sleeping mode” or “latent mode”. During this time, the viruses take a break and stop reproducing. However, they don’t die but only dose off for a little while.
This phase is entirely unpredictable and often tricks the doctors. Once the patients stop taking drugs, slowly, these viruses come to play again. This time they start to replicate even faster and tend to change their form completely.
A few times, they grow stronger, and this can be very risky to humans. Therefore, different kinds of antiviral drugs are used by people if they ever face this sort of issue.
Lack of Testing Models
Even though it is unethical, animals are used to test antiviral drugs. Plants are avoided from testing drugs as they don’t have a common biological structure with humans. Animals used in the laboratory to test drugs are rats, guinea pigs, or birds.
However, sometimes these drugs are not suitable in the animal’s bodies. This is because some viruses cannot create copies inside animal cells, as it is a different biological form at the end of the day. Again, in some countries, drug testing on animals is completely banned. Due to the lack of proper test models, antiviral drug development gets pretty difficult.
New Generation Viruses
Viruses constantly reproduce a new generation of viruses, each with its unique structure. A vast portion of them are yet to be discovered. They are also unpredictable, and it’s challenging to keep up with them.
Therefore, new methods and technology are used for research purposes. Often new viruses step up and replace the old ones. This means that new antiviral drugs should be constantly developed. Not only that, making antiviral drugs is a highly tedious process that requires a lot of effort to stay consistent.
Antiviral drugs require years of thorough research and careful analysis to develop. Hence, the funding for this is costly. Investors are often not interested in investing in this field as many years are spent on the making with a very low probability of working.
Again, new drugs must be created from scratch as they only work for a minimum period. Also, to regulate safety concerns, these antiviral drugs must be tested many times. It also takes a much longer to approve due to its inconsistent results. Overall, this process is lengthy and lacks efficiency.
Despite having numerous complications, antiviral drugs are continually being developed. Even after mutating numerous times, scientists are very persistent about it. Since you’ve reached the end, here is a gist of what we wanted to state in this article.
In short, similar to how pirates hijack cruise ships, viruses conquer living hosts. Viruses can range from simple like the common cold to something fatal like COVID-19. They rapidly change their form and are arbitrary, making it hard to predict them. Having limited testing subjects does not speed up the process either.
They are also difficult to target, go latent and keep on emerging. Hence, developing new antiviral drugs and a slow approval process is often costly. Therefore, even though it is difficult, creating antiviral drugs is not impossible.