Researchers at UT Medical Branch Look to Existing Drugs for Zika Treatment

“What we want to identify is a drug that can reduce the viral burden.”

By Michael MarksAugust 2, 2016 11:37 am

The United States’ first locally transmitted cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in Florida. Experts believe it’s only a matter of time before Texas mosquitoes carry it too. Many who contract the virus don’t show symptoms, although the greatest risks appear to be for unborn children. Zika has been linked to microcephaly, which causes infants to be born with smaller than normal skulls.

There’s currently no vaccine for Zika. But researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch may have found treatments that can dull its effects – medicines that already exist.

Assistant professor Shelton Bradrick, who’s part of the team that published the findings in the August edition of Cell Host and Microbe, says they put together a basic pre-clinical study wherein they analyzed compounds for antiviral activity against Zika.

“We analyzed about 770 drugs and identified about 20 that had pretty potent antiviral activity in-vitro – in cultured cells that we grow in the lab,” Bradrick says. “The types of drugs that came out of the screen are actually a wide variety of drugs, some treat bacterial infections, some that are anti-cancer drugs, other drugs that treat parasitic infections.”

All viruses require different types of host proteins and factors in order to replicate. Bradrick says that the idea behind looking at existing drugs is due to the fact that they can already target certain factors in other medical contexts.

“What we’re looking for is a drug that could potentially target one of these host factors that’s important for Zika replication,” he says.

While none of the potential drugs are technically a cure, they could reduce the spread of the virus, which would inhibit the worst cases of infection.

“What we want to identify is a drug that can reduce the viral burden, so especially in the context of a potential drug that could reduce the chance of transmission from mother to fetus,” Bradrick says. “That’s really sort of the goal because the most insidious manifestation of the infection is in the context of pregnancy.”

Listen to the full interview in the player above. 

Post by Allyson Michele.