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Drug used to treat HIV could also work in fighting Zika virus

Developing the potential new treatment could save countless lives

Photo (c) Manjurul - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Temple University Health System found that rilpivirine, a drug used to treat HIV, was found to be successful in fighting the Zika virus, a disease transmitted to humans via infected mosquitoes.  

According to the researchers, both Zika and HIV rely on the polymerase enzyme to stay alive in humans’ cells. That allowed rilpivirine to be effective for both conditions, and the researchers believe this could be a huge breakthrough in Zika treatment. 

“HIV and Zika are distinct types of RNA viruses,” said researcher Kamel Khalili, PhD. “By discovering that rilpivirine blocks Zika virus replication by bonding to an RNA polymerase enzyme common to a family of RNA viruses, we’ve opened the way to potentially being able to treat multiple RNA virus infections using the same strategy.” 

Finding new value in existing treatment options

With previous history as a treatment option for HIV, the researchers sought to determine if rilpivirine would create similar results when used for Zika, which they have explained is a biologically similar disease to HIV. 

Using mice as their test subjects, the researchers infected the animals with the Zika virus and treated some of them with rilpivirine. Much to their surprise, the drug worked in minimizing the progression of Zika, and the mice began to exhibit reduced symptoms of the infection. 

“We found...that when treated with rilpivirine, the animals survived,” said researcher Jennifer Gordon, PhD. “Our conclusion is that rilpivirine disrupted the virus’ usual course of infection.” 

The researchers were pleased with these findings, as the Zika virus has been found to lead to neurological issues in extreme cases, or even to Guillain-Barre syndrome, an attack on the nervous system that could lead to muscle paralysis. 

While Zika is biologically similar to HIV, it is also closely related to other mosquito-borne illnesses, like Dengue, West Nile Virus, hepatitis C, and yellow fever. The findings indicate that this course of treatment could be effective for large populations of infected people. 

“We now have a clear path forward,” said Dr. Khalili. “We have a starting point from which we can find ways to make these drugs even more potent and more effective against flaviviruses.” 

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