Seed funding aids research to fight resurging Chikungunya virus

Sept. 18, 2023
Photo of a Mosquito
Hongmin Li

R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy Professor Hongmin Li, PhD, has a received seed funding from the Aegis Consortium to develop treatments for a re-emerging but neglected family of viruses.

Dr. Li’s project, titled “Broad-spectrum inhibitors against Viral Methyltransferases” aims to create antiviral treatments for the Chikungunya virus. The virus belongs to the alphavirus family, which are diseases that attack the brain. The Chikungunya virus has resurged but currently lacks any drugs approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“Chikungunya virus infections can lead to a spectrum of human illnesses, ranging from mild rashes and fever to acute and chronic arthritis, and even potentially fatal encephalitis,” Dr. Li said, who is also the R. Ken and Donna Coit Endowed Chair in Drug Discovery. “Chikungunya virus has triggered multiple outbreaks, including the 2013 outbreak that affected over a million people across the Americas.”

Dr. Li attributes the sudden rise of the virus to mosquitos spreading to different areas, mainly because of climate change, which amplifies the transmission of the virus.

The Aegis Consortium, an initiative of the University of Arizona Health Sciences, brings researchers together to prevent future pandemics and provides funding for research projects in areas of pandemic control, prediction or preparedness; post-acute effects of pandemics on individuals and societies; and the resilience of built and natural environments.

More than $650,000 in seed funding was awarded to eight pilot research projects. This one-year funding will assist in covering initial costs and collecting data, with the goal of strengthening applications for external funding from large national organizations.

Importantly, Dr. Li's research has broader applications beyond just the Chikungunya virus.

"The inhibitors identified in this study have the potential to be effective against various viruses, whether they are emerging, re-emerging, or entirely unknown in the future," he stated.