FSU research team makes Zika drug breakthrough
Health officials reported one new local Zika infection in Miami Beach on Monday as researchers from Florida State University and other institutions published a study that identifies the first potential therapeutic treatment for the infectious disease.
State health officials, who are going door-to-door conducting epidemiological investigations into local Zika infections in Miami-Dade, Palm Beach and Pinellas counties, reported no new travel-related cases. There are only two areas in the continental United States where mosquitoes are actively spreading Zika: a one-square-mile section of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, and a 1.5-square-mile zone in Miami Beach.
In response to Zika’s spread in South Florida, the incoming speaker of the Florida House, Richard Corcoran, a Republican, announced Monday what he called a “bipartisan” effort to request that federal officials declare a public health emergency and authorize use of “self-limiting mosquito technology for Zika-infected counties.”
As public health officials work to contain the virus’s spread, a team of researchers from FSU, Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health published research showing that two different groups of drug compounds — including an FDA-approved drug used to treat tapeworm — can potentially stop Zika from replicating in the body and damaging fetal brains.
The team’s research, published in the journal Nature Medicine, may be the first to identify a therapeutic treatment for Zika, which was discovered in 1947 but remained little known until an outbreak raced across Brazil and the rest of South America in 2015.
In the Nature Medicine study, researchers identified two classes of compounds effective against Zika: one is antiviral, and the other prevents Zika-related brain cell death. The compounds include emricasan, an drug currently undergoing a clinical trial to reduce liver injury and fibrosis, and niclosamide, a chewable tablet used to treat tapeworm.
Niclosamide showed no danger to pregnant women, according to researchers, though tests are still needed to determine a specific drug treatment regimen for Zika.
FSU Professor of Biological Science Hengli Tang, who helped lead the research, said the team focused its work on drug compounds that have the shortest path to clinical use.
“This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease,” Tang said in a statement.
This is a first step toward a therapeutic that can stop transmission of this disease.
Hengli Tang, FSU professor of biological science
Tang and colleagues at Johns Hopkins and the NIH teamed up for the research and screened 6,000 drug compounds that were already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or were in the process of a clinical trial. Researchers traveled back and forth between Baltimore and Tang’s lab in Tallahassee testing cells infected with the virus.
The next step is for researchers to test the drugs on animals infected with the Zika virus. Zika can be transmitted to people through the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus mosquito, or through a sexual partner.
And while only one in five infected people will feel symptoms, including fever, rash, muscle pain and red eyes lasting a week to 10 days, Zika has been associated with devastating birth defects and neurological disorders.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has concluded that congenital Zika virus infection during pregnancy can cause microcephaly, a birth defect characterized by an abnormally small head, and other neurological disorders in newborns.
During the current outbreak, at least 1,845 cases of birth defects including microcephaly and other developmental complications associated with Zika have been reported in Brazil, according to the World Health Organization’s most recent update.
In the United States, the CDC has reported 584 confirmed cases of pregnant women contracting Zika through Aug. 18, though most of those are travel-related infections.
A total of 43 local Zika infections have been reported in four Florida counties this year, with one each in Broward, Palm Beach and Pinellas, and the remainder in Miami-Dade — where health officials have identified two zones where mosquitoes are actively transmitting the disease: a one-square-mile section of Wynwood, and a 1.5-square-mile zone in Miami Beach.
As of Monday, there were 545 travel-related Zika cases in Florida, and an additional 75 among pregnant women who have contracted the virus.
Zika infections in Florida as of Aug. 29
Number of Cases
Total cases not involving pregnant women
. . .
. . .
Cases involving pregnant women regardless of symptoms*
* Counties of pregnant women are not disclosed.
** Does not include local cases.
Source: Florida Department of Health