Conflicting Selection Pressures Will Constrain Viral Escape from Interfering Particles: Principles for Designing Resistance-Proof Antivirals.

Abstract:

The rapid evolution of RNA-encoded viruses such as HIV presents a major barrier to infectious disease control using conventional pharmaceuticals and vaccines. Previously, it was proposed that defective interfering particles could be developed to indefinitely control the HIV/AIDS pandemic; in individual patients, these engineered molecular parasites were further predicted to be refractory to HIV’s mutational escape (i.e., be ‘resistance-proof’). However, an outstanding question has been whether these engineered interfering particles—termed Therapeutic Interfering Particles (TIPs)—would remain resistance-proof at the population-scale, where TIP-resistant HIV mutants may transmit more efficiently by reaching higher viral loads in the TIP-treated subpopulation. Here, we develop a multi-scale model to test whether TIPs will maintain indefinite control of HIV at the population-scale, as HIV (‘unilaterally’) evolves toward TIP resistance by limiting the production of viral proteins available for TIPs to parasitize. Model results capture the existence of two intrinsic evolutionary tradeoffs that collectively prevent the spread of TIP-resistant HIV mutants in a population. First, despite their increased transmission rates in TIP-treated sub-populations, unilateral TIP-resistant mutants are shown to have reduced transmission rates in TIP-untreated sub-populations. Second, these TIP-resistant mutants are shown to have reduced growth rates (i.e., replicative fitness) in both TIP-treated and TIP-untreated individuals. As a result of these tradeoffs, the model finds that TIP-susceptible HIV strains continually outcompete TIP-resistant HIV mutants at both patient and population scales when TIPs are engineered to express >3-fold more genomic RNA than HIV expresses. Thus, the results provide design constraints for engineering population-scale therapies that may be refractory to the acquisition of antiviral resistance.

The case for transmissible antivirals to control population-wide infectious disease

Abstract:

Infectious disease control faces significant challenges including: how to therapeutically target the highest-risk populations, circumvent behavioral barriers, and overcome pathogen persistence and resistance mechanisms. We review a recently proposed solution to overcome these challenges: antivirals that transmit by 'piggybacking' on viral replication. These proposed antivirals, termed 'therapeutic interfering particles' (TIPs), are engineered molecular parasites of viruses that are designed to steal replication resources from the wild type virus. Depriving viruses of crucial replication machinery, TIPs would reduce viral loads. As obligate parasites, TIPs would transmit via the same risk factors and transmission routes as wild type viruses, automatically reaching high-risk populations, and thereby substantially limiting viral transmission even in resource-poor settings. Design issues and ethical/safety considerations of this proposed intervention are discussed.

Autonomous targeting of infectious superspreaders using engineered transmissible therapies

Abstract:

Infectious disease treatments, both pharmaceutical and vaccine, face three universal challenges: the difficulty of targeting treatments to high-risk ‘superspreader’ populations who drive the great majority of disease spread, behavioral barriers in the host population (such as poor compliance and risk disinhibition), and the evolution of pathogen resistance. Here, we describe a proposed intervention that would overcome these challenges by capitalizing upon Therapeutic Interfering Particles (TIPs) that are engineered to replicate conditionally in the presence of the pathogen and spread between individuals — analogous to ‘transmissible immunization’ that occurs with live-attenuated vaccines (but without the potential for reversion to virulence). Building on analyses of HIV field data from sub-Saharan Africa, we construct a multi-scale model, beginning at the single-cell level, to predict the effect of TIPs on individual patient viral loads and ultimately population-level disease prevalence. Our results show that a TIP, engineered with properties based on a recent HIV gene-therapy trial, could stably lower HIV/AIDS prevalence by ∼30-fold within 50 years and could complement current therapies. In contrast, optimistic antiretroviral therapy or vaccination campaigns alone could only lower HIV/AIDS prevalence by <2-fold over 50 years. The TIP's efficacy arises from its exploitation of the same risk factors as the pathogen, allowing it to autonomously penetrate superspreader populations, maintain efficacy despite behavioral disinhibition, and limit viral resistance. While demonstrated here for HIV, the TIP concept could apply broadly to many viral infectious diseases and would represent a new paradigm for disease control, away from pathogen eradication but toward robust disease suppression.