Stanford scientists bring back discarded drug to help human cells fight off viruses

Stanford University scientists think a newly improved drug might help fight off viruses causing Ebola, dengue and Zika among others.

Attempts to destroy viruses, including common cold viruses have failed up until now.

Scientists at Stanford decided to solve this problem from a different angle by boosting the human body’s ability to resist the virus rather than directly fighting the virus. This work was published in ‘Nature Chemical Biology’.

This approach has worked, in a lab dish at least, with a drug that fights two disease-causing viruses and potentially many more.

Stanford scientists have resurrected a discarded drug that helps human cells fight off two different viruses in a lab dish. (Photo courtesy of :

Stanford scientists have brought back a discarded drug that helps human cells fight off two different viruses in a lab dish.
(Photo courtesy of :

Chaitan Khosla, a professor of chemistry and of chemical engineering who was one of the senior authors on the paper said, the drug could be effective against viruses that use RNA instead of DNA as their genetic material.

“Most of the really nasty viruses use RNA,” Khosla said, including Ebola, dengue, Zika and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV), a mosquito-borne virus which infects horses but can also kill people.

In addition, the team is conducting tests on animals to check the safety of the drug and to see which viral diseases it can fight off.

A drug with a similar concept was initially developed by GlaxoSmithKline . However, after its few initial publications it was found that over time it prevented the cells from dividing and therefore, it was shelved. Khosla and his team studied the drug and decided to resurrect it by improving its mechanism of action.

With the new approach Khosla and his team created a solution by feeding the cells a slightly different building block that is only used for DNA generation and not RNA. In this way, the cells successfully fought against dengue and VEEV and continued with their cell division. Hence, the drug could become less toxic to animals and ultimately to people.

Khosla said if the drug combination works in animals, they hope it might be among the first antiviral approaches for human disease.