Repurposed drugs to the rescue: treating Zika



In response to the health threat posed by the recent outbreak of Zika virus in Latin America and its recent spread to Puerto Rico and Florida, researchers have been working at a furious pace to learn more about the mosquito-borne virus. Considerable progress has been made in understanding how Zika might cause babies to be born with unusually small heads and other abnormalities, and in developing vaccines that may guard against Zika infection. Still, there remains an urgent need to find drugs that can be used to treat people already infected with the Zika virus.


IRP researchers led by Wei Zheng, Ph.D., and colleagues efficiently tested the effects of thousands of potential drug candidates on Zika-infected human cells in a matter of weeks by utilizing the high-tech, drug-screening robots and vast libraries of drug compounds available at the IRP. The initial screen generated a list of more than 100 compounds with potential promise for treating Zika infection and the team was able to narrow the list down to three lead candidates. Further investigation revealed that combination treatments also can offer protection against the Zika virus.


The research team was able to identify lead compounds and combination treatments for continued drug development against the Zika virus, which could aid in efforts to reduce the risks associated with Zika infection. The new work also demonstrates the promise of large-scale screens of existing drug compounds as a means to speed the discovery of new treatments to address many emerging infectious disease threats. To encourage other researchers around the world to pursue additional treatment strategies for Zika, the team made all of their data freely available to the scientific community.


Xu M, Lee EM, Wen Z, Cheng Y, Huang W, Qian X, Tcw J, Kouznetsova J, Ogden SC, Hammack C, Jacob F, Nguyen HN, Itkin M, Hanna C, Shinn P, Allen C, Michael SG, Simeonov A, Huang W, Christian KM, Goate A, Brennand KJ, Huang R, Xia M, Ming G, Zheng W, Song H, Tang H. (2016). Identification of small-molecule inhibitors of Zika virus infection and induced neural cell death via a drug repurposing screen. Nat Med. 22(10), 1101-7.

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This page was last updated on Tuesday, June 13, 2023