New class of chemical compounds shows potential to treat dangerous RSV, Zika viruses

U of A researchers refining compound in preparation for drug development.


A new and promising class of chemical compounds has the potential to treat the dangerous Zika virus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to a new study by University of Alberta scientists.

“This is both a remarkable scientific discovery and also something that has the potential to positively affect not only global health but also the economy of Canada,” said Fred West, a professor in the Department of Chemistry, who led the discovery along with RSV researcher David Marchant, a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology.

West said the compound is similar to the naturally occurring isatisine A, an antiviral compound originally found in traditional Chinese herbal medicine.

Working in conjunction with cell biologist and Zika expert Tom Hobman in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, West and Marchant developed and then tested the chemical compound against powerful viruses, including RSV and Zika. The results were promising, showing that it was active and effective against both viral infections.

The Zika virus, which is a mosquito-borne pathogen, began making headlines in May of 2015 when it was identified as the culprit behind an outbreak of prenatal defects that devastated families across South America. In most cases, Zika infections result in flu-like symptoms that disappear in less than a week. However, the 2015 outbreak of the virus in Brazil coincided with a 2,700 per cent increase in reported cases of microcephaly, an often fatal congenital condition associated with incomplete brain development in newborns.

Relatively unheralded RSV, on the other hand, holds the biggest risk for infants, the elderly and the immunocompromised. This virus is responsible for up to 30 per cent of all hospitalized respiratory cases in any given year.

West says the next step of drug development is already underway.

“What we aim to do is further refine this compound to keep the elements that make it medically active and build in the structural components that make it possible for patients to consume in drug form,” explained West. “We are approaching that point.”

Marchant has started a company, Antibiddies Technologies Inc., that will license the intellectual property and begin commercialization.

The paper, Dual Catalytic Synthesis of Antiviral Compounds Based on Metallocarbene−Azide Cascade Chemistry, was published in the Journal of Organic Chemistry.