NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of Conatus Pharmaceuticals (CNAT) - Get Reportwere climbing 6.65% to $2.05 on heavy trading volume mid-Monday afternoon after the company's patented liver-disease drug, emricasan, was discovered to be potentially useful in treating the Zika virus, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The San Diego-based biotechnology company currently holds several patents on the drug, some of which don't expire until 2028.

The drug is in clinical trials for liver disease, but was also found to prevent brain cells from dying in a dish following Zika exposure.

Scientists hope the drug can be repurposed to prevent or slow fetal-brain defects associated with the virus.

Chief Scientific Officer Alfred Spada said the company would be "ecstatic" if emricasan were found to be effective in treating the disease, the Journal reports.

More than 3.5 million shares of Conatus stock have traded so far today vs. the 30-day daily average of roughly 84,000 shares.

Image placeholder title