The excruciating joint pain that can result from infection with the recently discovered Chikungunya virus can last for months or even years. Researchers from Oregon Health & Science University and its partners are striving to develop what may be the first ever medicine for this condition.
Although scientists have worked to create vaccines and drugs to fight the virus, none have been approved as of yet. The latest study might lead to the molecule going through its first human testing by the end of 2027.
“We have the potential to develop an antiviral that could be used to treat millions of people during large Chikungunya outbreaks, and prevent long-term disease in people who are persistently affected by this debilitating disease,” said Streblow, a professor at OHSU’s Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute.
Together with Richard Whitley, M.D., of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, and Mark T. Heise, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Streblow is in charge of the new research effort.
Researchers from the University of Colorado Denver, Southern Research in Alabama, and SRI Biosciences in California are also a part of the team. Warmer temperatures are home to the mosquito species that carry the virus through their bites. Since its discovery in Africa in 1952, the chikungunya virus has spread to Asia, the Indian subcontinent, the Americas, and Europe. Its geographic range could be widened by climate change. 77 fatalities and more than 360,000 cases of Chikungunya have been reported worldwide so far this year, with the majority of cases happening in Brazil, India, and Guatemala.
The virus started to spread in the US in 2014, but it did so slowly. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since then there have been 13 locally acquired cases in US states. For one to two weeks after the first infection, Chikungunya can produce fever, joint and muscular discomfort, a rash, and other symptoms. A increased risk of serious illness or death exists among young children, elderly individuals, those with high blood pressure, and people who have diabetes. While the majority of patients recover completely, 30 to 40% of them will continue to have chronic Chikungunya arthritis, which causes persistent joint pain for months or even years. Some people are unable to work as a result of the agony it causes.
The investigational Chikungunya antiviral medicine is intended to lower the overall viral load, much as the COVID treatment Paxlovid. The substance, which is still under patent protection, is known as a 2-pyrimidone small molecule inhibitor. It functions by attaching to the viral RNA polymerase, which is used by viruses to multiply. Because it specifically targets a specific location on viral RNA polymerase and has never been used to treat people, Streblow refers to the drug as “first in class.”
When administered one to two weeks after infection, the investigational antiviral was found to lower Chikungunya virus levels by up to 1,000 times and stop long-term joint problems in earlier, unpublished study with mice. The study team also discovered that persistent viral loads, which are regarded to be the root of chronic illness, were decreased when the chemical was administered later.
The research team is currently attempting to modify the chemistry of the antiviral chemical and create a pill that can be swallowed. The group intends to use more sophisticated animal models to examine the efficacy and safety of the reformulated substance.
The study team’s next goal is to apply for an investigational new drug with the American Food and Drug Administration. If their proposal is accepted, OHSU would direct a Phase 1 clinical trial to examine the safety and effectiveness of the novel therapy in human subjects.