Why Has Herpes Not Been Cured? A Comprehensive Look at the Challenges of Developing a Vaccine

Herpes is a virus that has been difficult to cure due to its ability to hide in nerve cells for long periods of time before reactivating. In recent years, advances in herpes cure research have been made due to improvements in gene-editing tools. Researchers have been able to add combinations of different gene-cutting enzymes, making it harder for the virus to recover. Antiviral treatments can reduce outbreaks of genital herpes, but they are not a cure.

There is no known cure for herpes. Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is mainly transmitted by oral contact and causes an oral herpes infection, sometimes causing painful sores in or around the mouth (“cold sores”). In experiments with mice, researchers have managed to reduce herpesvirus infection in a prominent group of nerves by up to 95% by selecting two different meganucleases carried by three different flavors of AAV. Latent herpes viruses hide in groups of nerve cells called ganglia, and some nodes are harder to reach than others. Genital herpes is a major health problem worldwide, with an estimated 500 million people living with the infection. The associated social consequences can have a profound effect on sexual and reproductive health.

Most researchers have focused on when and how individual genes in the herpes virus genome are turned on and off during infection to find out how the virus changes between the latent and lytic stages. The challenge of creating a vaccine that protects against both strains of herpes has been difficult due to the virus's ability to evade the immune system. Keith Jerome began exploring the idea that lifelong herpes virus infections could be cured by using gene therapy tools to cut DNA. The Jerome Laboratory is reorganizing its selection of vector viruses and meganucleases to attack nerve cells infected with HSV-2 in preparation for human trials of gene therapy. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an unprecedented race to develop a vaccine that protects against coronavirus, researchers have been trying to create a vaccine to prevent herpes for at least four decades. Billions of people around the world are living with herpes infections, underlining the need to improve awareness and expand services to prevent and treat herpes. It will still be a long time before these experiments lead to the first human trials of gene therapy to cure herpes.

However, with continued research and development, it is possible that one day we will be able to find a way to effectively prevent and treat this incurable virus.