Mechanisms of Action of Antiviral Drugs

Viruses rely almost exclusively on the host cell's metabolic machinery for their replication, making them extremely difficult targets for selective toxicity. Viruses are simply nucleic acid, either DNA or RNA, that is surrounded by a protein coat. They have no cell wall, ribosomes, or any other structure targeted by commonly used antibiotics. Thus, viruses are completely unaffected by antibiotics. Some viruses encode their own polymerases, however, and these are potential targets of antiviral drugs (figure 21.16). Relatively few other targets have been discovered.

Many researchers and pharmaceutical companies are currently trying to develop more effective antiviral drugs. The relatively few drugs available are generally effective against only a specific type of virus; none can eliminate latent viral infections. Table 21.3 summarizes the characteristics of the most common antiviral drugs. ■ latent viral infections, p. 354

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