A drug widely used to treat HIV may also prevent cervical cancer, research suggests.
University of Manchester researchers, working with colleagues in Canada, have discovered how the antiviral drug lopinavir attacks HPV by switching on a natural viral defence system in infected cells.
The study builds on the team's previous work in 2006 that first identified lopinavir as a potential therapeutic for HPV-related cervical cancer following laboratory tests on cell cultures.
"Since publishing our earlier work, we have now found that lopinavir selectively kills HPV-infected, non-cancerous cells, while leaving healthy cells relatively unaffected," said Dr Ian Hampson, from Manchester's School of Cancer and Enabling Sciences.
"This is a very significant finding as these cells are not cancer cells but are the closest thing to being like the cells found in a pre-cancerous HPV infection of the cervix. In addition we were also able to show that lopinavir kills these HPV-infected cells by re-activating a well-known antiviral system that is suppressed by HPV," he said.
"Our results suggest that for this drug to work against HPV it would be necessary to treat virus-infected cells of the cervix with roughly 10-15 times the concentration that is normally found in HIV-infected patients taking lopinavir as tablets. This implies that, for this treatment to work, it would need to be locally applied as a cream or pessary," he added.
Co-author Lynne Hampson said the results are very exciting since they show that the drug not only preferentially kills HPV-infected non-cancerous cells by re-activating known antiviral defence systems, but also is much less toxic to normal non-HPV infected cells.
The study is published in the journal Antiviral Therapy.