Soy Sauce and HIV: Japanese Condiment Sheds New Light

Antiretroviral drug therapies are the key treatments used against HIV today. Such therapies have proven effective and have turned the tide on the virus increasing both life expectancy and quality of life. Yet, it is common for patients suffering from HIV to develop a resistance to some of the therapies of choice. This can be a real problem as substitute therapies are usually harsher and not quite as effective. Soy sauce and HIV, four words that we wouldn’t usually see in combination, may present a solution.

A few years ago, a Japanese company was looking to enhance the flavor of their soy sauce. The discovery of a new compound led to further investigation. It turns out that what they had found was a compound similar to what is currently used in antiviral therapies. The difference with this compound and typical therapies for HIV is in how the compound works against HIV and, especially, in its ability to escape detection from the virus.

The new compound, EFdA, is a nucleoside analogue that tricks the virus and halts reproduction. Compounds such as the ones used in treatment look like the building blocks used by HIV to replicate and spread. The imposter compounds, however, thwart this process thus stunting the spread of the virus. Benefits of EFdA include its ability to remain unnoticed by the virus. Unlike presently used molecules, HIV has not been able to resist their attacks.

Ongoing research continues to show good results. The complexity of its structure is currently the focus of study. There is a sort of ‘key’ that unlocks the compound and sets it off to do its job. Figuring out how the compound is structured will help researchers unlock its potential and put it to use. It is hoped that this will spawn newer, more effective treatments that can last for years without the virus developing resistance. Soy sauce and HIV, who would have known?