News Feature | May 7, 2014

Soy Sauce Molecule May Unlock Drug Therapy For HIV

By Estel Grace Masangkay


Virologists at the University of Missouri have discovered that a potent molecule found in soy sauce has the potential to serve as a next generation treatment to stop HIV from spreading in the body.

HIV patients undergoing treatment with anti-AIDS medications often develop resistance to first-line drug therapy regimens such as Tenofovir. The researchers’ work suggests that the molecules may help in the development of compounds that can be 70 times stronger than Tenofovir.

“EFdA, the molecule we are studying, is less likely to cause resistance in HIV patients because it is more readily activated and is less quickly broken down by the body as similar existing drugs,” said Stefan Sarafianos, associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the University of Missouri School of Medicine, and a virologist at the Bond Life Sciences Center at MU.

The molecule was discovered by a Japanese soy sauce company while researching ways to enhance flavor of its product. The molecule is part of the compound family ‘nucleoside analogues,’ which is similar to existing drugs for HIV and other viruses. Further testing confirmed EFdA’s potential against HIV and researchers set forth on a decade-long research process. The molecule was shown to be effective in misleading the virus; the molecule appears similar to the building blocks of the virus, and in turn, leads the virus to use these false building blocks, effectively halting the spread and replication of HIV.

Professor Sarafianos and colleagues from the National Institutes of Health and the University of Pittsburgh used virology techniques and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) to define EFdA’s mechanism on a molecular level. The research team built together the molecule’s exact structure and configuration. Professor Sarafianos said, “The structure of this compound is very important because it is a lock-and-key kind of mechanism that can be recognized by the target. EFdA works extremely well on HIV that is not resistant to anti-AIDS drugs. It also works even better on HIV that’s become resistant to Tenofovir.”

Pharmaceutical giant Merck is currently investigating compounds developed by the team as potential anti-HIV drugs.