HealthDay News — Three existing drugs may offer pregnant women and their developing fetuses protection against the damaging effects of Zika virus, according to a new multicenter study published in Nature Medicine.

Researchers identified 3 potential Zika virus treatments in the laboratory by screening over 6000 different compounds that included already-approved drugs and clinical trial drug candidates.

One of the drugs, sold as niclosamide, is already on the market as a treatment for tapeworm. But it appears to also have antiviral properties that inhibit Zika from replicating, the researchers reported. Another antiviral drug potentially effective against Zika is PHA-690509. This is a medication that is currently in development that works by interfering with gene expression, the study authors said. Investigators identified a third medication awaiting US Food and Drug Administration approval that doesn’t directly act against Zika but may be able to protect the brain cells of developing fetuses against viral damage. The drug, emricasan, inhibits a natural process that causes programmed cell death.

For women who are not pregnant and males, testing the compounds in clinical trials will take a minimum of 1 to 2 years, according to study coauthor Wei Zheng, PhD, from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. “However, for the pregnant women, the timeline will be much longer because we need additional preclinical toxicology studies to make sure the drugs are safe,” Dr Zheng told HealthDay.


Xu M, Lee EM, Wen Z, et al. Identification of small-molecule inhibitors of Zika virus infection and induced neural cell death via a drug repurposing screen. Nat Med. 2016; doi:10.1038/nm.4184.