Antivirals against human polyomaviruses: Leaving no stone unturned

Rev Med Virol. 2021 Nov;31(6):e2220. doi: 10.1002/rmv.2220. Epub 2021 Mar 17.


Human polyomaviruses (HPyVs) encompass more than 10 species infecting 30%-90% of the human population without significant illness. Proven HPyV diseases with documented histopathology affect primarily immunocompromised hosts with manifestations in brain, skin and renourinary tract such as polyomavirus-associated nephropathy (PyVAN), polyomavirus-associated haemorrhagic cystitis (PyVHC), polyomavirus-associated urothelial cancer (PyVUC), progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML), Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), Trichodysplasia spinulosa (TS) and pruritic hyperproliferative keratinopathy. Although virus-specific immune control is the eventual goal of therapy and lasting cure, antiviral treatments are urgently needed in order to reduce or prevent HPyV diseases and thereby bridging the time needed to establish virus-specific immunity. However, the small dsDNA genome of only 5 kb of the non-enveloped HPyVs only encodes 5-7 viral proteins. Thus, HPyV replication relies heavily on host cell factors, thereby limiting both, number and type of specific virus-encoded antiviral targets. Lack of cost-effective high-throughput screening systems and relevant small animal models complicates the preclinical development. Current clinical studies are limited by small case numbers, poorly efficacious compounds and absence of proper randomized trial design. Here, we review preclinical and clinical studies that evaluated small molecules with presumed antiviral activity against HPyVs and provide an outlook regarding potential new antiviral strategies.

Keywords: BKPyV; HPyV; HPyV7; JCPyV; MCPyV; TSPyV; antivirals; disease; immunosuppression; infection; large T-antigen; polyomavirus; replication; repurposing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • DNA Viruses
  • Humans
  • Polyomavirus / drug effects*


  • Antiviral Agents