NIH, Johns Hopkins, FSU make Zika drug breakthrough
A research team from Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health discovered existing drug compounds able to stop the Zika virus from replicating in the body — as well as protect fetal brain cells that can lead to birth defects.
The team, comprising FSU Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang, Johns Hopkins Professors Guo-Li Ming and Hongjun Song and National Institutes of Health scientist Wei Zheng, identified two compound groups that had the potential to be used as Zika treatments.
“We focused on compounds that have the shortest path to clinical use,” Tang said in a statement. “This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease.”
The first option, in fact, has the ability to stop the virus from replicating while the second can prevent Zika from killing fetal brain cells.
One compound is currently sold as a tapeworm treatment and another is the basis of Nicolsamide, a U.S. FDA-approved drug commonly used to treat tapeworm. In theory, these could be prescribed by a doctor, but further testing is needed to determine a treatment regimen.
“It takes years if not decades to develop a new drug,” Song added. “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 continuing to study these compounds with the hope of testing the treatment on animals infected with Zika in the near future.
In early March, FSU and Johns Hopkins became the first team to discover that Zika caused cellular phenotypes consistent with microcephaly and immediately after that they joined with Zeng’s NIH team to focus on potential Zika treatments.
Thus far, they have screened 6,000 compounds either U.S. FDA-approved or in the process of a clinical trial.