Efforts to develop therapies to protect people from Zika underway in Florida

Jupiter researchers hopeful for cure

(WPLG)--Researchers at the Scripps Research Center in Jupiter, who have been studying the Zika a long time, believe that they have a good head start at figuring out how to beat it.

"We have been studying the process by which this class of virus gets into cells for some time," saidDr. Michael Farzan, a Scripps researcher.

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Most Americans had never heard of the virus until a few months ago, but now Scripps is focusing most of its manpower on a single goal: finding ways to keep the Zika virus from infecting people and endangering the lives of unborn babies.

"We're sort of the organizing center of the larger Scripps effort against Zika," Farzan said.

The team of Zika specialists includes virologists, immunologists, medicinal chemists and neuroscientists who are working on several possible solutions.

The first one is to develop vaccine alternatives if other current efforts fail. The second is to develop an efficient antibody against Zika.

"An antibody can be taken by pregnant women," Farzan said. "An antibody can protect people in a Zika environment, and it can also control a Zika infection once you have it."

The third part of their effort involves working on a way to develop an oral medication to prevent infection, creating a replica of the Zika virus to use as a test subject.

"It looks a lot like Zika virus, only we've removed the structural proteins that the virus uses to make new virus particles, and this traps the virus inside the cell. It can never leave, can't infect anyone," said Dr. Tim Tellinghuisen, another researcher at Scripps.

Researchers have a full library of chemicals that they can test in their fight against Zika to give them the best shot at  finding a way to beat it.

"So there's a good chance that we will find something. We've found other compounds for other infectious agents using this type of technology," Tellinghuisen said.

Researchers at Scripps are looking into how Zika directly affects people, especially the development of unborn babies.

The CDC now says there is little doubt that the virus can cause microcephaly, which can lead to skull deformities in newborns.

Production of a vaccine or drug could take several years because of the need for clinical trials. But, researchers said a safe antibody against Zika could be within reach by the end of the year.

Scripps is facing some challenges, though. Because the fight against Zika is so new, there's not a lot of cash to fund the cause, such as programs for cancer and other illnesses.

Florida Sen. Bill Nelson plans to  file legislation that would provide $1.9 billion to fight the spread of Zika.