The hepatitis C treatment, sofosbuvir was found to be effective against Zika virus in both cell cultures and mouse models, according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

Researchers from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine evaluated the potential of sofosbuvir (marketed as Sovaldi; Gilead), an HCV NS5B polymerase inhibitor, as Zika belongs to the same viral family as hepatitis C. It was thought sofosbuvir could be an effective option as both viruses possessed strong structural similarities. Previously, sofosbuvir was shown to protect against Zika in various cell types.

In tests involving human neural progenitor cells (NPCs), exposure to sofosbuvir rescued dying NPCs infected with Zika and restored gene expression tied to their antiviral response. Using an immunodeficient mouse model infected with Zika, the researchers discovered that intravenous sofosbuvir significantly lowered viral loads in the blood compared to a placebo group. In addition, the fetuses of Zika-infected pregnant mice did not display detectable Zika virus amplification . 

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“This suggests that one, the drug was well-tolerated by the Zika-infected pregnant mice and two, more importantly, that it was able to arrest Zika replication in vivo and stop transmission from mother to fetus,” said senior author Alysson Muotri, PhD. 

While the study is still in its early stages, the authors note that the data support further investigation of this readily available medication for the treatment of Zika. “Until there is approval of a Zika vaccine, we think this is an approach that needs to be pursued whole-heartedly,” concluded Muotri.

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