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A Zika Treatment Could Already Be on the Market

Updated 1076 days ago

A drug to treat Zika virus infections could already exist and be available on the market, according to the latest research from scientists at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

A team of researchers, led by Dr. Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco, a professor and chair of the biochemistry and molecular biology department at UTMB, and Shelton S. Bradrick, an assistant professor in the department, tested over 770 different U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved therapeutics and found that more than 20 of those decreased Zika virus infection. Their findings are in the August edition of Cell Host & Microbe.

“We were driven by the lack of any available treatment options when confronted with severe Zika infections, specifically in pregnancy,” Garcia-Blanco said. “We decided to look for treatment opportunities among FDA-approved drugs.”

The team is recommending that some of the drugs found to be effective against Zika virus be considered for testing in clinical studies. Among the effective therapeutics in the study were drugs used to treat a wide range of ailments and diseases including bacterial and parasitic infections, cancers and depression.

“Given that viruses highjack many of our own cellular processes, and these are targets of known drugs, this approach seemed reasonable,” said Nicholas Barrows, the first author of the study.

First isolated in 1947 in Uganda, Zika virus emerged as a global concern in 2007 with a series of outbreaks across the Pacific followed by a dramatic spread in the Americas in 2014 and 2015. Declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, researchers are now working to understand many facets of the virus including the potential neurological complications those infected could suffer and the microcephaly related birth defects some babies have experienced.

There are no approved vaccines or specific therapies available yet. Researchers, including some at UTMB, are working on possible vaccines but it could still take some time before they are ready for clinical trials.
Meanwhile, many of the drugs shown to be effective in the study have already been tested and approved for human use.

“Multiple drugs that inhibit Zika virus in our studies have been used previously during pregnancy to treat other diseases and have been used safely in the U.S. and abroad,” Bradrick said.

To find the effective drugs the researchers tested 774 FDA-approved drugs using a variety of human cell types, including human neural stem cells and primary amnion epithelial cells.

“Although it can be difficult to extrapolate from in vitro experiments to efficacy on people, it is promising that our testing in primary human cells discovered several drugs with anti-Zika virus activity,” Garcia-Blanco said.

Other authors of this study include, Rafael K. Campos, Steven Powell, K. Reddisiva Prasanth, Geraldine Schott-Lerner, Ruben Soto-Acosta, Gaddiel Galarza-Muñoz, Erica L. McGrath, Rheanna Urrabaz-Garza, Junling Gao, Ping Wu, Ramkumar Menon, George Saade, Ildefonso Fernandez-Salas, Shannan L. Rossi, Nikos Vasilakis, and Andrew Routh. This work was supported by funds from The University of Texas Medical Branch, a University of Texas System STARs Award, National Institutes of Health RO1 and R24 grants, a National Institutes of Health- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke fellowship, the Chief Research Office at UTMB, and the John S. Dunn Foundation. Dr. Garcia-Blanco is also Professor in the Programme for Emerging Infectious Diseases, Duke-NUS Medical School, Singapore.

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Texas' first academic health center opened its doors in 1891 and today comprises four health sciences schools, three institutes for advanced study, a research enterprise that includes one of only two national laboratories dedicated to the safe study of infectious threats to human health, a Level 1 Trauma Center and a health system offering a full range of primary and specialized medical services throughout Galveston County and the Texas Gulf Coast region. UTMB Health is a part of the University of Texas System and a member of the Texas Medical Center.

Photo: Jipru Fane (L), Andrew Routh, Reddisiva Kambham, Steven Powell, Nicholas Barrows, Roben Soto-Acosta, Shelton Bradrick and Dr. Mariano A. Garcia-Blanco, stand in the lab where the team tested potential therapeutics for Zika virus.

Article written by Raul Reyes

Raul Reyes, director of media relations at UTMB, has an extensive background in communications with more than 30 years experience in journalism. Before joining UTMB in 2007, he was an editor at The New York Times and also worked as an editor at the Dallas Morning News and the San Antonio Express-News. When he and his wife, Linda, worked at the Houston Chronicle in the 1980s, they used to dream about living and working in Galveston. Some things do come true. Raul is at UTMB and Linda edits a couple of Dallas magazines from their home in Galveston.