August 07, 2016

Research Roundup: Promising Zika drugs, micro-QR codes to fight counterfeit drugs, and a new antibiotic R&D accelerator

Marissa Chmiola
Communications Officer

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

Could a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved drug to fight Zika already exist? A new research paper suggests it could be possible. A group of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston screened 774 FDA-approved drugs to see if they could protect isolated human cells from the virus and found that 24 of the drugs showed some ability to block Zika from infecting certain cell types. Due to the lag time between when a pregnant woman contracts the virus and when the virus passes from mother to fetus, if scientists could find a drug to halt infection, a woman could take it as soon as infection is discovered and prevent the virus from reaching her fetus. Using an existing drug already shown to be safe could help expedite the research and regulatory process to bring it to market.

A chemist at the University of Albany has developed at tiny, edible QR bar code he believes could be a solution to fighting the problem of counterfeit drugs. Made of edible materials, the code is smaller than 200 micrometers, or around the size of a dust particle, and can be printed on the surfaces of capsules or embedded in pills. The code, which is able to be read by a cell phone microscope available for about US$10, could contain manufacturing information such as the product number and production date. In low- and middle-income countries, counterfeit drug sales are a major health challenge. Up to 30 percent of drugs on the market are counterfeit.

The roundworm Wuchereria bancrofti which causes lymphatic filariasis. Photo: Achim Hoerauf/Uniklinik Bonn
The roundworm Wuchereria bancrofti which causes lymphatic filariasis. Photo: Achim Hoerauf/Uniklinik Bonn

A new study has found that infection with the worm Wucheria bancrofti—which cause lymphatic filariasis—increases risk of HIV infection by two-to threefold. The study followed 1,055 individuals in southwest Tanzania and found that those with the worm infection had a 3.2-fold increased risk of HIV infection in the age group 14 to 25 and a 2.4-fold increased risk in those between 25 to 45 years. The study adds to a growing collection of scientific literature linking infection with neglected tropical diseases with increased HIV infection risk.

A new public-private partnershipwill deploy more than $350 million over the next five years to encourage pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics to combat the growing problem of drug resistance. The partnership—Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria Biopharmaceutical Accelerator (CARB-X)—is a joint initiative of the Boston University School of Law, the Biomedical Advanced Research Authority, the Wellcome Trust, and the Antimicrobial Resistance Centre. With few large pharmaceutical companies in the antibiotic development market today, the program will focus on researchers and smaller biotech firms who may be interested in developing new antibiotics but have little access to funding. The program will provide grants to these developers as well as business and research support through one of four accelerator sites, which will aid these developers with mentoring, business strategy, and other coaching.
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