How can the collaborative scientific community be proactive and more agile – not just for Zika virus, but also for the next epidemic around the bend?
From the desks of Sean Ekins, CSO and Barry Bunin, CEO
You would have to be hiding under a rock to have not heard about the Zika virus which is being found in the Americas and spreading globally as people travel. The Zika virus, carried by one of humanity’s long-term pests the mosquito, so far appears to be capable of being sexually transmitted, as well as transmitted with blood transfusions and by birth. It has also recently been found in urine and saliva. There have been large numbers of children born with microcephaly which has been associated with the virus though this is not firm since causality has not been proven, yet the correlative relationship appears strong. We currently cannot predict what scientific discovery or epidemiological finding will be made next or how this will unfold.
It is pretty clear as with Ebola that we have no drug, no vaccine to help us. We have 60 years of knowledge and yet we do not have any therapeutics for treatment or prevention, because few people bothered to study Zika. For a long time it was just another mild virus with symptoms that could be tolerated. It did not kill you. Since the linkage with microcephaly, Zika has moved up the list of health concerns and the WHO recently announced a public health emergency of international concern.
It certainly looks like this is going to be an important virus in the Americas for quite a while. We have to ensure our blood supply is not contaminated, we have to ensure those with the virus do not pass it along to their partners. We have to stop the Mosquito in its path. But what about a cure, a treatment?
Over the last few weeks we have been amazed to find little press on science done trying to develop assays for the virus or any efforts at drug screening. We have reached out to the neglected infectious disease community through Twitter, blogs, and personal emails. NIAID has a plan this quarter to enable submission of compounds for testing to outside resources.
This call to the community led to an Opinion Piece on perhaps what effectively could be done. Computational modeling has been performed and some of the team in Brazil are developing in vitro assays ready to screen FDA drugs and similar assays are being set up in the USA and elsewhere in Europe, as we all learn more together. It is important to do this while trying to avoid overlap of efforts and yet it is encouraging to see spontaneous collaborations coming together from the ground up. Other scientists could help in this effort so please get in touch. Zika is not going away anytime soon and perhaps our efforts will catalyze others to get involved.
We know many of the key researchers setting up assays, with compounds that may be helpful, and hypotheses to test. If you can help advance our state of knowledge, or if there are ways we can help you prepare for Zika or the next outbreak let us know how via email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
At CDD we are happy to host any Zika virus drug discovery data in CDD Vault (waiving the software fees), as we did with past outbreaks of Ebola to help do our bit to support international efforts in times of need.