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The Zika virus is extremely contagious, and is largely spread through mosquito bites. Photo from Shutterstock.
The Zika virus is extremely contagious, spreading through mosquito bites. Photo: Shutterstock.

Seattle-based biotech startup Kineta announced today that it has received an undisclosed amount of funding to expand research that could potentially combat the Zika virus.

The funding comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), one of the National Institutes of Health, which focuses on funding research of infectious diseases. The company confirmed the funding, but declined to comment on the amount provided or additional details beyond what was offered in a press release.

“There is a critical need for therapeutics to combat emerging viruses like Zika that are creating a public health crisis across the globe,” Kineta CEO Shawn Iadonato said in the release.  “We are eager to expand testing of our broad spectrum antivirals in Zika virus as they have shown compelling efficacy across other flaviviruses such as Dengue and West Nile and have the potential for long term development as a pan-flavivirus therapy.”

Shawn Iadonato. Photo via Kineta.
Shawn Iadonato. Photo via Kineta.

The Zika virus is highly contagious, and primarily spread through mosquito bites. Pregnant mothers who are infected can transmit Zika to their children, often resulting in the birth defect Microcephaly.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization declared Zika a public health emergency, and there have been almost 1,500 cases reported in the United States since 2015. The spread of the virus also is causing alarm in Brazil, where the Rio Olympics kick off next month.

Kineta’s Innate Immune Antiviral program, which will be researched as a treatment for Zika, hinges on a protein called IRF-3, “a critical first responder that is essential for inhibiting viral replication and clearing infection.” Kineta’s website describes the antivirals as a potential first response for a variety of viruses, and the immediacy of this response could help contain Zika’s fast-moving outbreaks.

Kineta has raised over $40 million since they were founded in 2008, including a $7.2 million award to develop a treatment for Lassa Fever in May, and $4 million last year to develop therapies for viral diseases like Ebola.

Kineta employs 39 people at its headquarters in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. The company was founded by Charles Magness and Shawn Iadonato, who previously sold their Seattle-based biotech company Illumigen Biosciences to Cubist Pharmaceuticals.

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