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Repurposed Zika drug

A drug used to treat hepatitis C effectively protected and rescued neural cells infected by the Zika virus. The results were consistent across cell cultures and mouse models. It also blocked transmission of the virus to mouse foetuses, the research found.

The authors say that their findings support further investigation of using the repurposed drug as a potential treatment for Zika-infected adults, including pregnant women.

The team investigated an antiviral drug called sofosbuvir, which is approved and marketed under the brand name Sovaldi to treat and cure hepatitis C infections. The drug inhibits replication of the hepatitis C virus and researchers noted that hepatitis C and Zika belong to the same viral family and show strong structural similarities.

In tests using human neural progenitor cells (NPCs), the scientists found that exposure to sofosbuvir not only rescued dying NPCs infected with the Zika virus, but restored gene expression linked to their antiviral response.

Senior author Alysson Muotri said: “There has been a lot of work done in the past year or so to address the Zika health threat. Much of it has focused on developing a vaccine, with promising early results. 

“But there is also a great need to develop clinical strategies to treat Zika-infected individuals, including pregnant women for whom prevention of infection is no longer an option. 

“They represent the greatest health crisis because a Zika infection during the first trimester confers the greatest risk of congenital microcephaly.”

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