Several scientists in the world have devoted their knowledge and efforts to obtain a medicine or vaccine that can be used in people infected with the zika virus, transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which also transmits dengue and chikungunya. The search for a chemical formula triggered laboratory alarms since the World Health Organization (WHO) issued, in early December 2015, an epidemiological alert against zika virus due to its relationship with the increase of newborns with Microcephaly. Since then, many scientific studies have been undertaken worldwide.
As part of these investigations, one is made by panamanian Abel De La Rosa, scientific director of the Institute for Drug Development at Emory University in Atlanta, United States, since 2013. De La Rosa leads a team Of specialists in organic and synthetic chemistry, virology, biochemistry, enzymology, quantitative and qualitative chemistry, pharmacokinetics of drugs, among other disciplines, that works to develop medicines against viral diseases, including zika virus, which has active transmission in 76 countries Of the world, mainly in the region of America and the Caribbean.
The first achievement against the zika of the Panamanian researcher and his work group has been to molecularly synthesize the polymerase from zika, and to find four active compounds against this protein, which is necessary for the virus to multiply. These results were published in December 2016 in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy.
The next step is to learn how the virus works and to find among the four chemical compounds which has the best data for the development of a drug, De La Rosa said in an interview with La Prensa. He explained that in order to synthesize the molecule it took about four months and they were the first to have that genetic material, key to continue the research.
"The study has been divided into three phases. The first one was already fulfilled, since it was to synthesize the polymerase of the zika and to obtain the chemical compounds. The next step is preclinical studies with the best dating compound on at least two species of animals", he explained. The animals that are expected to test the drug for 28 days are monkeys and rats. The idea is to get concrete results and submit a full report to US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorities and obtain permits for testing in humans.
Studies in people would be the third phase and there is no date planned for this, because it is estimated that the collection of data from animal research takes at least two years. For De La Rosa, the big challenge they will have when doing the study in humans is that the drug crosses the brain barrier, and that is extremely difficult. He explained that these types of drugs are ingested by people and then pass through the intestine, which absorbs them and then begin to circulate to enter the liver. The amount of medicine that enters the liver almost never comes out of this, and what little is still circulating has to reach the tissue where the virus is.
Another pending aspect is to know the life-time of the compound in the body, as well as the times to be taken and whether the drug damages the gastric or intestinal juice. The challenge is great, because it is a disease that we have not even 10 years to know, said the scientist, who said it is an interesting virus to work. In addition, he said that there should be two fronts of research, one aimed at the development of a vaccine and the other to search for a drug for people infected with the zika virus.