Anti-biotics are broad attack agents, why can’t we do the same with viruses? My recent viral conjunctivitis had no cure but time, yet influenza has Tamflu? What’s the key difference between the two that limits our viral solutions?

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Anti-biotics are broad attack agents, why can’t we do the same with viruses? My recent viral conjunctivitis had no cure but time, yet influenza has Tamflu? What’s the key difference between the two that limits our viral solutions?

In: Biology

Viruses and bacteria are very different “organisms”. Viruses are a package of data that only works when inside a host cell.

A bacteria is alive.

So with a virus, you’re looking at disrupting the chemical process. Whereas with bacteria you’re trying to kill something. Something that doesn’t want to die and has tricks to survive.

Viruses are incredibly small, and simple little buggers, and they can very, very quickly change. For an antimicrobial drug to work, it needs to have some specific “thing” to attach to and break in some way. Bacteria are little cells, and they a bunch of machinery and structure that is pretty well preserved across generations. There are more options for us make drugs that can break them. Viruses are basically a bundle of some proteins and nucleic acid that can replicate. They do it super quickly, and can often have fast changes across generations. It’s much harder to make a useful drug that break them, because they have fewer unique things we can target, and they can change them faster.

It’s like the difference of taking apart a car with standardized nuts and bolts, vs. taking apart a small device with custom parts, but that small device is a bit of a shape shifter and the parts change shape over time. We can pretty easily develop wrenches and shit for the car, but making tools that can reliably dismantle the other device is harder.

In that sense, it’s a technically difficult thing to do. If you spend millions and millions of dollars to develop a drug, and it’s obsolete within a year because your target protein has changed, then you’re fucked and out of a bunch money. And finally, most of these common viral infections are already self limited, and don’t pose as much threat in terms of morbidity and mortality when compared to invasive bacterial disease.

In summary:

1. It’s hard to do, and hard to make something that will work for very long.

2. It’s risky financially.

3. It’s a lower priority problem.

The thing is that bacteria are pretty similar similar. I mean for example they all have ribosomes (a tiny little thing in cells that makes proteins), so if you target the bacteria’s ribosome, you can basically kill any species of bacteria no matter how different (not considering of course things like drug delivery, its uptake by the bacterial cell, and anti-biotic resistance).

So let’s say you have two very similar strains of bacteria with very different metabolism and that cause two different diseases, they can still be susceptible to the same anti-biotic because it targets something that’s universally present in all bacteria.

The same is not with viruses though. Every virus is different and unique with a very different set of proteins and ways of attacking the cell. For example tamiflu targets a protein in the influenza particle called neuraminidase. That protein isn’t present in any other virus, so tamiflu only woks on the influenza virus. Viruses are all just very unique and very different from each other and they don’t share any common structures like bacteria do.

As mentioned in other comments, viruses change mutate often and your last chemical that worked will now suddenly not work anymore.

The additional point that I want to add is that your chemical drug needs to not just make the virus break apart, but it also needs to leave everything else in entire human body NOT break apart

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