Under the three-year study, Scripps’ researchers will develop new screening tools to identify compounds that disable a protein essential to hepatitis C virus (HCV) replication.

Scripps Florida associate professor and study principal investigator Timothy Tellinghuisen said the new research is focused on a potent enzyme, NS2 protease which is necessary for productive infections that produce new viruses and spread the infection among cells.

"The new grant will help us develop potential chemical tools to look at the role of NS2 in HCV biology because we really don’t know how the protein works," Tellinghuisen added.

"Our overall goal is to turn our small-scale NS2 assay into an assay appropriate for high-throughput small-molecule screening."

According to recent studies, NS2 protease may be involved in altering gene expression in the host cell and in helping the virus defend against apoptosis or programmed cell death, in addition to the direct roles for the protein in viral replication and particle assembly.