Zika virus: IIT-Mandi researchers find new treatment

IIT-Mandi researchers have found a drug target in the Zika virus that can bind with an existing anti-malarial drug to restrain the spread of the disease in humans. Transmitted by the aedes aegypti mosquitoes, Zika is a viral disease that causes fever, rashes, joint pain and red eyes, but in pregnant women it has been associated with babies born with microcephaly (a small head and abnormal brain development).

The scientists have discovered that the drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) used in the treatment of malaria, is able to inhibit the NS2B-NS3 protease essential for Zika virus replication. Rajanish Giri, Assistant professor, IIT-Mandi told that it was a three part research. First, they looked through existing FDA approved drugs and computationally discovered five molecules that could probably work against Zika. Then, they purified the protein target to see whether HCQ inhibited its functions. And, third, they did enzyme kinetic studies to find out the concentration at which the drug reduces the viral load.

For the enzyme kinetic studies, Giri and his team worked closely with Indira Mysorekar from Washington University at St. Louis, USA. Earlier, Mysorekar’s team had suggested that the use of HCQ can prevent the transmission of Zika from mother to fetus.

“There is a need for either drugs or vaccine against Zika because it is a public health concern as it has been associated with microcephaly. Till now, there is nothing. I haven’t heard of this particular study, but if an already existing drug can be used against the virus, if there is a proof of concept or enough evidence, then the drug development will take less time,” said P.L. Joshi, former director of the National Vector Borne Disease Control Programme.

HCQ is already an approved drug in the USA and India so a translational drug that can be marketed for Zika would not be difficult to develop. Giri said that repurposing approved drugs could be an efficient method to identify drug compounds, which might be capable of activating or inhibiting new targets. “There is no need to prove the safety of the drug, it can directly go into preclinical animal studies for its efficacy against Zika,” he added.

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