Drug development experts at Emory join fight against Zika virus

By Holly Korschun | Feb. 19, 2016

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Researchers will use knowledge gained from studying other viruses in their effort to develop antivirals against Zika virus infection.

Drug Innovation Ventures at Emory (DRIVE) and the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD) have launched an effort to identify and develop antivirals to treat the infection caused by Zika virus. There are currently no treatments or vaccines against the virus, which has been declared a public health emergency and is linked to birth defects.

According to George Painter, PhD, CEO of DRIVE and director of EIDD, “for the past three years, we have been synthesizing and developing antivirals against alphaviruses, such as chikungunya, and flaviviruses, such as dengue. Since Zika is a flavivirus in the same family as dengue and hepatitis C, we can apply what we have learned working on alphaviruses and flaviviruses, as well as from our past success with treatments for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and herpes viruses, in our search for an effective drug.”

“We are making progress developing a Zika RNA Polymerase Assay,” says Abel De La Rosa, PhD, chief scientific officer of DRIVE and EIDD. “This assay would allow us to rapidly screen our nucleoside/nucleotide library of compounds against Zika virus, some of which have shown activity against other flaviviruses. Lessons learned from HIV, hepatitis C and other viral diseases, where vaccine development lagged behind effective antiviral treatment successes, suggest the best rationale against emerging viral diseases is a parallel development path for both vaccines and antivirals.”

The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) is providing critical early support for the Zika project. “We are very pleased to fund the expansion of DRIVE and EIDD ‘s work to include the treatment of the Zika virus,” says H. Lee Herron, vice president, commercialization, Georgia Research Alliance. “DRIVE and EIDD’s leadership have a proven track record of developing assays and effective drugs to treat many of the world’s most devastating viruses.”

DRIVE is a not-for-profit company wholly owned by Emory, but with the independence to run like a biotechnology company. DRIVE applies focus and industry development expertise to efficiently translate discoveries to address viruses of global concern. DRIVE has an internal program working on the discovery and development of nucleoside/nucleotide analogues against respiratory syncytial virus, chikungunya virus and dengue virus. Learn more here

About the Emory Institute for Drug Development (EIDD)
The EIDD was founded and constructed to provide the multidisciplinary capabilities that are required to effectively advance cutting-edge drug discovery and development programs at the preclinical stage. The EIDD is housed in 12,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the art, fully equipped laboratory and office space that was specifically designed to support dedicated teams focused on medicinal and process chemistry, virology and molecular biology, bioanalytical chemistry, drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics. EIDD currently has a Department of Defense contract to develop nucleoside/nucleotide analogues against Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus, a biodefense threat. Learn more here.

About GRA
The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) works to expand research and commercialization capacity in Georgia’s universities to recruit world-class talent, seed new companies and transform lives. For 25 years, GRA has worked to strengthen the research enterprise in Georgia by working in partnership with the University System of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development to create the companies and jobs of Georgia’s future. Learn more here.