Re­searchers iden­tify drugs that may help in Zika fight

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By An­drea K. McDaniels

As re­searchers around the world scram­ble to de­velop a vac­cine to treat Zika, a group of Johns Hop­kins sci­en­tists has found three ex­ist­ing drugs that show prom­ise in treat­ing the dis­ease.

A team from the Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity School of Medicine joined re­searchers from Florida State Univer­sity and the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health to test 6,000 ex­ist­ing drugs and their abil­ity to stop or slow the virus.

They found three drugs, nor­mally used to treat liver dis­ease and par­a­sitic worms, war­ranted fur­ther study be­cause of the ef­fec­tive­ness in treat­ing Zika in hu­man neu­ral cells grown in the lab, ac­cord­ing to find­ings pub­lished Mon­day in the jour­nal Na­ture Medicine. The drugs are ei­ther ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion or are be­ing tested in fi­nal-stage clin­i­cal tri­als.

By test­ing drugs al­ready on the mar­ket

and proven to be safe, the sci­en­tists hope to speed up the re­search process for find­ing a way to com­bat Zika, a mosquito­borne virus spread­ing through the Amer­i­cas that is linked to the de­bil­i­tat­ing birth de­fect mi­cro­cephaly. Cre­at­ing drugs from scratch takes longer and costs more.

“In the case of the Zika virus, there is ur­gency,” said Hongjun Song, one of the re­searchers, who is also di­rec­tor of the Stem Cell Pro­gram in the In­sti­tute of Cell En­gi­neer­ing at Johns Hop­kins. “We have to re­ally shorten the process of drug devel­op­ment.”

Re­search on re­pur­pos­ing drugs to treat other ill­nesses is emerg­ing as a new tool to come up with quicker reme­dies for dis­ease. Re­pur­pos­ing has led to po­ten­tial treat­ments for dis­eases such as Ebola and hep­ati­tis C. Large data­bases of med­i­cal in­for­ma­tion also have given sci­en­tists ac­cess to data to con­duct such large-scale com­par­isons.

The drugs iden­ti­fied by the Johns Hop­kins re­search would not elim­i­nate the need for a vac­cine, which would stop trans­mis­sion of the dis­ease.

The Cen­ter for Vac­cine Devel­op­ment at the Univer­sity of Mary­land School of Medicine has said it will test a hu­man vac­cine by the end of the year. Johns Hop­kins sci­en­tists and a pri­vate com­pany started by Johns Hop­kins af­fil­i­ates also are work­ing on a vac­cine.

Re­searchers and pub­lic health of­fi­cials are work­ing ag­gres­sively to stop the spread of the Zika virus, which not only stunts the brains and skulls of fe­tuses in in­fected preg­nant women but po­ten­tially causes other birth de­fects and has been con­nected to still­births and mis­car­riages.

There have been 77 cases of Zika in Mary­land as of Aug. 24, all of them re­lated to travel. Na­tion­ally, there have been 2,517 cases re­ported to the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion, in­clud­ing more than 40 at­trib­uted to lo­cal mos­quito bites in Florida, where the virus first hit the main­land United States. There have been 9,011 cases in U.S. ter­ri­to­ries, pri­mar­ily in hard-hit Puerto Rico.

The Hop­kins find­ings are the lat­est promis­ing re­sults that even­tu­ally could lead to treat­ment for Zika.

“Zika is a dev­as­tat­ing ill­ness, and the sci­ence is chang­ing ev­ery day,” said Bal­ti­more Health Com­mis­sioner Dr. Leana Wen. “Ev­ery study makes us even more con­cerned about the im­pact of Zika on the fu­ture gen­er­a­tion. If there is a medicine to re­duce the ef­fect on our most vul­ner­a­ble un­born chil­dren, we need it. We need ev­ery avail­able tool to pre­vent this dis­ease and treat it.”

Dr. Howard Haft, deputy sec­re­tary of pub­lic health ser­vices for the Mary­land De­part­ment of Health and Men­tal Hy­giene, said varied re­search can help lead to a so­lu­tion to Zika.

“We all want to see an end to the scourge of Zika and to the birth de­fects it has been proven to cause,” he said in a state­ment.

The promis­ing drugs tested by the Hop­kins re­searchers worked in two ways. They ei­ther pre­vented the virus from killing cer­tain cells or pre­vented the virus from repli­cat­ing.

In an ear­lier study, the re­searchers had dis­cov­ered that Zika at­tacks spe­cific stem cells that de­velop into neu­rons in the brain’s cor­tex, which is as­so­ci­ated with higher brain func­tion.

Re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Texas Med­i­cal Branch at Galve­ston also looked at how ex­ist­ing drugs can treat Zika. They screened 774 FDA-ap­proved drugs to see if any of them could pre­vent Zika from in­fect­ing cells; they found 24 that could to some de­gree. The study re­sults were pub­lished last month in jour­nal Cell & Host Mi­crobe.

“The idea was to iden­tify drugs that are al­ready out there that could be moved more quickly into clin­i­cal stud­ies with peo­ple with Zika in­fec­tions,” said Shel­ton Bradrick, a co-au­thor of the study.

The re­sults of both the Hop­kins and Texas stud­ies are pre­lim­i­nary and need test­ing in an­i­mals and hu­mans.

“We would need to go through clin­i­cal tri­als, but at least we short­ened the process, and at least we know these drugs are safe,” said Song, the Johns Hop­kins re­searcher.

The Aedes ae­gypti mos­quito has been the pri­mary car­rier and most ef­fi­cient trans­mit­ter of Zika. Res­i­dents of Florida and other South­ern states face the great­est risk of in­fec­tion.

Mary­land isn’t likely to see many cases of lo­cal in­fec­tion be­cause the Aedes al­bopic­tus mos­quito, also known as the Asian tiger mos­quito, is more com­mon in the state.

The FDA rec­om­mended last week that all do­nated blood and blood com­po­nents be tested for Zika. The agency rec­om­mended that Mary­land be­gin test­ing in 12 weeks.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.