Expert opinion on investigational drugs vol:9 issue:8 pages:1743-51
Varicella-zoster virus (VZV), a member of the herpesvirus family, is responsible for both primary (varicella or chickenpox) as well as recurrent (zoster or shingles) infections. Acyclovir has been the mainstay for treating VZV infections in both immunocompetent and immunocompromised patients. Recently, newer anti-VZV drugs, i.e., valaciclovir (the oral prodrug form of acyclovir) and famciclovir (the oral prodrug form of penciclovir) have been developed and have enlarged the therapeutic options to treat VZV infections. Both acyclovir and penciclovir are dependent on the virus-encoded thymidine kinase (TK) for their intracellular activation. Although emergence of drug-resistant strains does not occur in immunocompetent patients, several reports have documented the isolation of drug-resistant VZV strains following long-term acyclovir therapy in immunocompromised patients. Mutations at the level of the TK are responsible for development of resistance to drugs that depend on the viral TK for their phosphorylation (i.e., acyclovir and penciclovir). Foscarnet, a direct inhibitor of the viral DNA polymerase, which does not require activation by the viral TK, is the drug of choice for the treatment of TK-deficient VZV mutants emerging under acyclovir therapy. Recently, emergence of foscarnet-resistant strains has also been reported. Both TK-deficient strains and foscarnet-resistant mutants are sensitive to the acyclic nucleoside phosphonate cidofovir, CDV, HPMPC, (S)-1-(3-hydroxy-2-phosphonylmethoxypropyl)cytosine. This agent does not depend on the virus-encoded TK, but on cellular enzymes for its conversion to the diphosphoryl derivative, which then inhibits the viral DNA polymerase.