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A New drug Developed To Fight The Bio-Terrorism Threat Of VEE Virus

A new drug is being developed that would reduce the bio-terrorism threat of the Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. //

Biomedical researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB) have announced to start the initial step in the development of effective drug therapies against Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis (VEE) virus, which is a potential bio-terrorist weapon. They claim to have determined the specific structure of a protein that the virus requires for replication.

The virus was developed into a biological weapon during the Cold War by both the United States and the Soviet Union; this has further fuelled fears by experts on the potential of VEE to be developed as a weapon of bio-terrorism. Reports have also indicated sporadic outbreaks of the mosquito-borne VEE virus periodically ravage Central and South America, that had caused infections to tens of thousands of people and killing hundreds of thousands of horses, donkeys and mules.

The protein the scientists focused on is known as the nsP2 protease. It acts like a pair of molecular scissors, chopping another complex of VEE proteins into specific smaller protein molecules that work together to transform living cells into VEE virus factories. "This protein is crucial to VEE virus replication, and we want to create drugs that will turn off such proteins," said Stanley W. Watowich, senior author of a paper on the research to be published in the September 12 issue of the journal Structure. The UTMB associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology added, "Now that we know what this protease looks like, we can begin a systematic computer-based search for compounds that will inhibit its activity, stop the virus from multiplying in infected individuals, and prevent VEE outbreaks from spreading."

VEE protease inhibitors would function much like the protease inhibitors taken by people infected with HIV, Watowich said, but since human and equine
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