Science

There’s been a huge breakthrough in the search for a Zika virus drug

According to Science Daily, a team of researchers at Florida State University, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institutes of Health, have discovered “existing drug compounds” that can stop the Zika virus from replicating in the body, while at the same time preventing damage to fetal brain cells that can lead to birth defects in newborns.

“We focused on compounds that have the shortest path to clinical use,” said FSU Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang. “This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease.”

One of the compounds is used in the drug Nicolsamide, which is commonly used to treat tapeworm.

In early March, the group was the first team to show that Zika indeed caused cellular phenotypes consistent with microcephaly, a severe birth defect where babies are born with a much smaller head and brain than normal.

They immediately delved into follow-up work and teamed with NIH’s Zheng, an expert on drug compounds, to find potential treatments for the disease.

Researchers screened 6,000 compounds that were either already approved by the FDA or were in the process of a clinical trial because they could be made more quickly available to people infected by Zika.

Although the drug could theoretically be prescribed to treat Zika today, more tests are needed to decipher a specific treatment regimen.

deadstate Zika Virus

Graduate students Emily Lee, Yichen Cheng and Sarah Ogden helped Hengli Tang conduct his research at Florida State.

Zika virus can lead to microcephaly in fetuses leading them to be born “dramatic and irreversible with severe birth defects” according to Tang. “The probability of Zika-induced microcephaly occurring doesn’t appear to be that high, but when it does, the damage is horrible.”

“It takes years if not decades to develop a new drug,” Researcher and Johns Hopkins professor Hongjun Song said. “In this sort of global health emergency, we don’t have time. So instead of using new drugs, we chose to screen existing drugs. In this way, we hope to create a therapy much more quickly.”

The researchers are still developing the compounds and hope to begin testing the drug in animals infected with Zika in the near future.

Featured image: Bill Lax/Florida State

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