A drug that can prevent Zika virus from spreading inside the body was recently revealed to be already out in the market by a group of researchers.
Scientists from Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health made the discovery that there are existing drug compounds that not only can stop Zika from further replicating in the patient’s system but can also help avoid damaging the fetal brain cells that lead to birth defects in offspring.
“We focused on compounds that have the shortest path to clinical use,” said FSU Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang in their report published on Monday by Nature Medicine. “This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease.”
Tang and the team of researchers have identified two different groups of compounds that have the potential to be used for Zika treatment.
A U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved drug called Nicolsamide, the drug used to treat tapeworms, is based on one of these compounds.
Further tests may be required, however, in determining the treatment method to use for the viral infection before the drug can be prescribed by any doctor.
Tang, along with Johns Hopkins Professors Guo-Li Ming and Hongjun Song and National Institutes of Health scientist Wei Zheng, got in contact in January because Tang, a virologist, was able to secure a sample of the virus, while Ming and Song, neurologists, had cortical stem cells that scientists needed for testing.
Working together, the group was recognized for their work that showed the virus caused the severe birth defect that causes babies to be born with a much smaller head and brain.
Zheng, an expert on drug compounds, helped the team sift through 6,000 compounds that are already approved or are in the process of being approved by the FDA to find a potential cure and treatment for Zika.
The strategy in looking for a medicine already out in the market could be made more available quicker to those infected by the virus.
“It takes years if not decades to develop a new drug,” 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 research team is currently working on the compounds and is hoping to begin testing the drugs on animals infected with Zika.