Science Questions

Could drugs evolve like diseases?

Sun, 20th Jul 2008

Part of the show Discovering Drugs

Question

Mario asked:

Is it possible to create an intelligent vaccine or a drug that could evolve with the ever changing strains of the disease?

Answer

We put this question to Dr Melanie McCullagh:

Melanie -  Thatís a very interesting question. Iím not sure that you would actually want a vaccine to evolve too much just in case once you set it loose in the wild you would risk some kind of a vaccine epidemic. I think what you can definitely do is apply selection pressure to the bacteria to change the types of molecules that they produce. Thatís a similar kind of concept.

Chris -  I would think that probably this is going to be big business in the future. Weíre only just beginning to understand how molecules actually look. By turning this round in this way we can now start with what we want to end up with and then go back to the gene and tweak that. Thatís quite a novel thing to be doing. Probably going to be a major way of doing this in the future.

Melanie -  There are some real advances in technology at the moment that I think will enable us to expand greatly what we can do with genetically engineering the bacteria that produce these polyketides. Bioticaís a very small company but I think thereís a really big area for us to build into with increasingly novel technologies as things move on.

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mario asked the Naked Scientists:

Is it possible to create an intelligent vaccine or drug that can evolve with ever changing strains of disease?

Is it possible to screen someone's genome to identify mutations that could to predict how someone may react to a drug or indicate if they have immunity against certain diseases?

Current drugs/treatments are aimed at killing or eliminating threats, or familiarising our immune systems so they are prepared to defend against pathogens.

This strategy is clearly becoming ineffective in light of new more virulent strains of disease (eg MRSA, XDR-TB). We always seem to be one step behind.

What do you think? mario, Tue, 15th Jul 2008

Personally, I think what you suggest may well be possible, if a long way off.
LeeE, Tue, 15th Jul 2008

I'm not so sure; bacteriophage therapy (viruses that selectively kill bacteria) is making a comeback:

http://www.thenakedscientists.com/HTML/articles/article/virusesvssuperbugs/

As phages are controlled by the same nucleic acid chemistry from which the genomes of these pathogens are constructed, then the phages will evolve with the infection.

Chris chris, Wed, 16th Jul 2008

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