As with the ebola outbreak on 2014, we’re facing the Zika pandemic without any drugs or vaccines. Several rapidly developed Zika vaccines are now entering clinical trial, but we urgently need effective drugs that we can give to infected pregnant women, to protect their unborn children from the awful birth defects that the virus can cause.
Drug development takes a long time. However, one group at the University of Texas Galveston tried a short-cut: test drugs that are already approved by the FDA to see if any can prevent Zika infections. They tested 700 drugs in vitro (i.e., i cells in a petri dish) and found 20 that showed some efficacy in different cell types. Some of these are safe to give to pregnant women, and at least one, ivernectin is a cheap anti-parasite drug already taken by millions of people world-wide.
Obviously whether any of these drugs are effective in actual people is an open question. But the beauty of this is that the safety of these drugs has already been tested. We can start enrolling people in clinical trials to test their efficacy now.
I wrote more about this story over at Pacific Standard – go give it a read.