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Mechanism Of Action

Acyclovir is an antiviral drug and hydrocortisone an anti-inflammatory drug [see Microbiology].


The plasma concentrations of acyclovir and hydrocortisone were not measured following topical administration of XERESE on cold sores.

The extent of percutaneous absorption of topical corticosteroids is determined by many factors including the vehicle, the integrity of the epidermal barrier, and the use of occlusive dressings.

Topical corticosteroids can be absorbed from normal intact skin and can have systemic side effects depending on both the potency of the corticosteroid and the surface area of application. Inflammation and/or other disease processes in the skin that disrupt the skin barrier can increase percutaneous absorption.

Once absorbed through the skin, topical corticosteroids are handled through pharmacokinetic pathways similar to systemically administered corticosteroids. Corticosteroids are bound to plasma proteins in varying degrees. They are metabolized primarily in the liver and are then excreted by the kidneys. Some of the topical corticosteroids and their metabolites are also excreted into the bile.


Mechanism of Action

Acyclovir is a synthetic purine nucleoside analogue with inhibitory activity against herpes simplex viruses type 1 (HSV-1) and type 2 (HSV-2) in cell culture and in vivo. The inhibitory activity of acyclovir is highly selective due to its affinity for the enzyme thymidine kinase (TK) encoded by HSV. This viral enzyme converts acyclovir into acyclovir monophosphate, a nucleotide analogue. The monophosphate is further converted into diphosphate by cellular guanylate kinase and into triphosphate by a number of cellular enzymes. In cell culture, acyclovir triphosphate stops replication of herpes viral DNA. This inhibition is accomplished in 3 ways: 1) competitive inhibition of viral DNA polymerase, 2) incorporation into and termination of the growing viral DNA chain, and 3) inactivation of the viral DNA polymerase.

Hydrocortisone is the main glucocorticoid secreted by the adrenal cortex. It is used topically for its anti-inflammatory effects which suppress the clinical manifestations of the disease in a wide range of disorders where inflammation is a prominent feature.

Antiviral Activity

The quantitative relationship between the cell culture susceptibility of herpes viruses to antivirals and the clinical response to therapy has not been established in humans, and virus sensitivity testing has not been standardized. Sensitivity testing results, expressed as the concentration of drug required to inhibit by 50% the growth of virus in cell culture (EC50), vary greatly depending upon a number of factors. Using plaque-reduction assays on Vero cells, the median EC50 value of acyclovir against clinical herpes virus isolates (subjects receiving placebo) was 1.3 μM (range: < 0.56 to 3.3 μM).


Resistance of HSV to acyclovir can result from qualitative and quantitative changes in the viral TK and/or DNA polymerase. Clinical isolates of HSV with reduced susceptibility to acyclovir have been recovered from immunocompromised subjects, especially with advanced HIV infection. While most of the acyclovir-resistant mutants isolated from immunocompromised subjects thus far have been found to be TK-deficient mutants, other mutants involving the viral TK gene (TK partial and TK altered) and DNA polymerase have been isolated. TK-negative mutants may cause severe disease in infants and immunocompromised adults.

The possibility of viral resistance to acyclovir should be considered in patients who show poor clinical response during therapy.

Clinical Studies

Clinical Trial Experience In Adults

In a double-blind, clinical trial, 1443 subjects with recurrent labial herpes were randomized to receive XERESE, 5% acyclovir in XERESE vehicle or vehicle alone. Subjects had, on average, 5.6 episodes of herpes labialis in the previous 12 months. The median age was 44 years (range 18 to 80 years), 72% were female, and 91% were Caucasian. Subjects were instructed to initiate treatment within 1 hour of noticing signs or symptoms and continue treatment for 5 days, with application of study medication 5 times per day. Ulcerative cold sores occurred in 58% of the subjects treated with XERESE compared to 74% in subjects treated with vehicle and 65% in subjects treated with 5% acyclovir in XERESE vehicle. The mean time to skin normalization was approximately 1.6 days shorter in the subjects treated with XERESE compared to vehicle. Clinical signs in terms of size of the cold sore and symptoms such as tenderness were reduced with XERESE as compared to vehicle.

Clinical Trial Experience In Pediatric Subjects

An open label safety trial in adolescents with recurrent herpes labialis was conducted in 134 subjects. Subjects had, on average, 4 episodes of herpes labialis in the previous 12 months. The median age was 14 years (range 12 to 17 years); 50% were female and all were Caucasian. XERESE was applied using the same dosing regimen as in adults and subjects were monitored for adverse events and selected efficacy parameters. The safety profile of XERESE appeared similar to that observed in adults.

An open label safety trial in children with recurrent herpes labialis was conducted in 54 subjects, who averaged an episode of herpes labialis 2 months prior to trial entry. The mean age was 9 years (range 6 to 11 years); 57% were female and 90% were Caucasian. XERESE was applied using the same dosing regimen as in adolescents and adults and subjects were monitored for adverse events and select efficacy parameters. The safety profile of XERESE appeared similar to that observed in adults.

Last reviewed on RxList: 2/3/2014
This monograph has been modified to include the generic and brand name in many instances.

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