Using a chemical found in green tea, an Augusta company that grew out of research at Georgia Health Sciences University has created a new lip treatment that could help fight the virus that causes most cold sores.
Called AverTeaX from Camellix, it will be available as both an everyday lip protector and an ointment to treat outbreaks of sores and blisters. It will go on sale Monday through the company’s Web site, camellix.com, along with the company’s other products: a hair-thickening shampoo, a dandruff shampoo and gum that fights chronic dry mouth.
All of the products rely upon a chemical found in green tea called epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG for short. The chemical has been found to have a broad range of effects, from follicle stimulating to antioxidant to antiviral, which is the application the cold sore products are based upon.
Previous lab studies found EGCG could prevent cells from being infected by herpes simplex virus type 1, or HSV-1, the virus that causes most cold sores, said Dr. Stephen Hsu, a green tea phytochemical researcher and chairman and CEO of Camellix. One study between 1999 and 2004 found 57.7 percent of people ages 14-49 were infected with HSV-1.
“It’s one of the most common infectious diseases in the world,” Hsu said.
The virus tends to stick around in a latent form, hiding in neurons, and then re-emerging to infect skin, lip or mouth cells, often during stress or other viral infections. While there are drugs that can treat some outbreaks, they come with side effects and other potential pitfalls, Hsu said.
“The biggest risk is the mutation of the virus (to become resistant),” he said. “The emerging data showed an alarming rate of mutation of the herpes virus when people are taking these types of drugs. There are so many mutant strains identified so far.”
And currently there is no effective vaccine against HSV-1, Hsu said.
The problem with developing a product with EGCG is the water-soluble form, which might be effective against HSV-1 infection, is too unstable to remain potent in a product. Previous studies from Osaka University in Japan found an EGCG compound combined with palmitate, a fat-friendly vitamin A compound that is an antioxidant of its own, had a combined effect that was more effective against the virus.
Working in a cell line, the GHSU researchers also found in a recent study that it was highly effective against HSV-1.
“The virus had lost the ability to infect the cells,” Hsu said. “There is zero virus getting into the cells.”
Some other testing done in the study may point to how it is working. Genes that encode for some binding proteins, for instance, were shut down. Hsu’s theory is that it might be working on the protein “coat” or envelope on the outside of the virus.
In theory, the EGCG compound “binds tightly with the proteins and changes the configuration of the protein coat and the interaction (with the host cell receptors),” he said.
The palmitate and another fat-friendly compound called stearate that has been added to EGCG and is being tested in clinical trials in China help solve the problem of getting the topical products through the skin barrier and supply the needed stability, Hsu said.
As with the previous Camellix products, Hsu stressed that the new products are made with all natural ingredients and build upon years of green tea-related compound research at GHSU.
“All of this research we do, we want to bring out to benefit people with natural products,” he said.