Mosquito Virus Expert Discusses a Promising New Drug For Zika


Thomas Voss, PhD, a world-renowned leader in infectious disease research, and his team, say there are two strategies for developing a defense program against Zika infection: prevention, achieved by developing an effective vaccine and vaccination program or the development of a drug that can kill viruses or inhibit their capability to reproduce. Voss estimates that a vaccine could be still three to five years away from being licensed and available to patients. Potentially, antiviral drugs to fight Zika could be developed in a shorter time.

Voss speculates that an antiviral drug shown to be safe in the laboratory could be rapidly scaled up and manufactured for clinical trials: "There is a unique window of opportunity right now to evaluate a potential drug in people as Zika is an active emerging virus," states Voss.

The direction is to have a broad-spectrum antiviral that could treat Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viral infections because of their similar symptoms, making it difficult to discern them at an early stage. HSRx Biopharmaceutical, a biotech company based in Tucson, Arizona USA, is developing that together with the Voss team. By utilizing a new technology platform that includes genomics, proteomics and metabolomics sciences in tandem with proprietary mass spectrometer technology and databases, HSRx has identified a compound from a common berry that was isolated and tested extensively in cell culture and animals called HSRx 431™. "HSRx 431 shows great efficacy and virtually no toxicity, and looks like it has a broad-spectrum of activity against Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses," states Voss.

He believes that the HSRx compound is certainly ahead of the game for treating Zika virus. The hope is that it will prove to be safe and effective in humans, and made quickly available to the populations most at risk.

From the same family as Dengue virus, Zika causes similar symptoms (high fever, skin rashes, muscle and joint pain, and headache). The majority of cases are mild and last between two days to one week but in some cases, the virus can turn out to be very dangerous, even life threatening. According to the latest reports from the World Health Organization (WHO) there are now 70 countries with reported mosquito-borne Zika virus and the outbreak continues to spread. Zika is becoming a global problem and a solution is needed urgently.

Zika virus is transmitted via mosquitos of the Aedes genus, from mother to fetus during pregnancy, through blood transfusions or sexually. Scientific data links Zika infections during pregnancy to congenital birth defects, the most worrying being microcephaly, a condition that results in babies having unusually small heads and underdeveloped brains.

Other severe fetal defects include eye defects, hearing loss, and impaired growth. Countries with Zika outbreaks have seen an increase in Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) cases in adults, for which their body's immune system attacks part of their own peripheral nervous system. Symptoms include weakness of the arms and legs and can affect the muscles that control breathing. Most people fully recover from GBS, though some sustain permanent damage.

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