By Kate Kelland
LONDON (Reuters) – Scientists working on how to combat a highly infectious and deadly virus called Nipah, which is transmitted to humans from bats and pigs, say they have found around a dozen potential drugs that might be developed to block the disease.
The early-stage molecule-screening research could lead to the development of a drug to target Nipah, which has caused several deadly outbreaks in South Asia and which is seen by some experts as posing a pandemic threat. There are no current treatments or vaccines against the viral disease.
“This is a potentially very serious health hazard, because so far, every single time it has struck, the fatality rates have been extremely high,” said M.S. Madhusudhan, an associate professor at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research who co-led the research.
In an effort to identify a compound that might eventually be developed into a treatment, Madhusudhan and colleagues screened potential molecules against various strains of the Nipah virus and found around 150 possibles. Of those, Madhusudhan said in a telephone interview, “there are around a dozen in which we have somewhat higher confidence” as potential future drugs.
“The question that now needs to be addressed fairly immediately is whether any of these molecules … can have an inhibitory effect (on the virus’ ability to cause infection),” he said.
The findings were published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases journal on Thursday.
Nipah virus was first identified in outbreaks in Malaysia and Singapore in 1998-1999. Since then it has spread thousands of miles, probably carried by bats, and caused outbreaks in Bangladesh and India in recent years that killed between 72% and 86% of those infected.
It is carried primarily by certain types of fruit bats and by pigs, but can also be transmitted directly from person to person and through contaminated food.
Global health and infectious disease specialists at a conference in Singapore earlier this week said that Nipah has “serious epidemic potential” and warned that the world is still “not adequately equipped to tackle” it.
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Hugh Lawson)