The United States is taking further precautions against the Zika virus as Swiss drug producer Roche announced on Monday that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has requested an Emergency Use Authorization for the company's Zika test.
In a study published in the journal Nature Medicine, experts from the National Institutes of Health, John Hopkins and Florida State University, looked into medicines already found in the market or are now in trials, whose compounds might be able to prevent the spread of Zika virus.
Zika has caused smaller epidemics of birth defects, notably brain damage that can cause miscarriages or profound developmental injuries in babies.
Since these drugs already have FDA approval, they could be used to fight Zika much sooner than any new drugs.
Discovery of the compounds was published in the journal Nature Medicine.
"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 product is for use in patients meeting CDC Zika virus clinical criteria and/or CDC Zika virus epidemiological criteria. Niclosamide is already approved in people and animals for battling parasitic infections, such as tapeworms, and PHA-690509 is an investigational compound with antiviral properties.
A Zika outbreak began in South America in mid-2015; the disease is now known to be responsible both for microcephaly, in which infants are born with severely underdeveloped brains, and for temporary paralysis in adults due to Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Only one in four Zika-infected people show symptoms, allowing the virus to spread rapidly in areas with local transmission. "To address these questions, additional studies need to be done in animal models as well as humans to demonstrate their ability to treat Zika infection", said co-author Guo-li Ming. Samples will be sent for analysis to specially certified U.S. laboratories with the appropriate equipment, a Roche spokesman said. It also has centers testing in areas of Texas that are considered at high risk for the spread of the virus, and an affiliate in Arizona testing high-risk donors.
The research team says one of the things keeping the drugs on hold is figuring out how they work in an actual human body.
Zika virus is transmitted primarily by the Aedes mosquito.
OneBlood, a part of America's Blood Centers network whose coverage area includes most of Florida and smaller parts of Alabama, Georgia and SC, has been testing all collections for close to a month as part of the Roche trial, said Dr. Rita Reik, chief medical officer.
Zika infections usually show no signs in most cases.
Researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health screened a library of 6,000 existing drugs and experimental compounds. Also, donors are not at risk of contracting Zika by donating blood.
The researchers, however, cautioned that the encouraging results have yet to be reproduced outside the laboratory.
The LightMix Zika rRT-PCR test has not been FDA cleared or approved.