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University of Alberta scientists working on compound that could prevent Zika, RSV

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An experiment at the University of Alberta’s Department of Chemistry could lead to a pill to treat deadly viruses.

Dr. Fred West told the 630 CHED Alberta Morning News he and a graduate student were initially working on some tests to benefit the chemistry community.

READ MORE: How science could wipe out disease-carrying mosquitoes and save lives

However, West noticed the compound they made had a similar composition to one found in a Chinese herb called isatisine A.

Isatisine A was found to have anti-viral properties, so West contacted David Marchant at the U of A’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology to run some tests.

They found the compound the University of Alberta team had created was effective against the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a contagious virus which can be fatal for young babies.

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“There’s no vaccine for RSV, and there’s no approved drug…RSV is a worldwide problem and it is responsible for probably $100 million in Canada in healthcare costs due to hospitalizations, and ten times that in the United States.”

READ MORE: RSV vaccine in the works, but could be years before it’s available

After making that find, West filed for a patent for his product, and he is now working with an Edmonton start-up company to modify the compound for clinical human trials.

“These compounds, because they prevent infection, should actually be something you could put in a pill and use to treat people, either to reduce their symptoms, or if they potentially have been exposed to the virus, prevent them from getting an infection.”

West also noted their compound could be effective against the Zika virus, which spread to countries throughout South and Central America in 2015 and 2016 and infected 1.5 million people in Brazil.

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The virus, carried by mosquitoes, can carry birth defects including microcephaly, which causes a newborn child’s brain to not develop properly due to having an abnormally small head.

READ MORE: Pregnant women with Zika virus have 7% chance of baby with birth defects: study

However, West says they don’t have any short-term plans to develop the compound to combat Zika.

Based on the major differences between the Zika virus and RSV, West says they also want to test their compound on other serious viruses like Ebola and Dengue fever.

READ MORE: Western University study discovers new way to detect Zika virus in patients