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New Flu Drug Stops Virus in Its Tracks

Compound traps virus inside infected cells (Feb. 21)

A new class of influenza drug appears to be effective against drug-resistant strains of the flu virus, according to a study conducted at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. The study — published online in Science Express — details the development of a new drug candidate that prevents the flu virus from spreading from one cell to the next. The drug was used successfully in mice with lethal strains of the virus.

In order to spread in the body, the flu virus first uses a protein (hemagglutinin) to bind to the healthy cell’s receptors. Once it has inserted its RNA and replicated, the virus uses an enzyme (neuraminidase) to sever the connection and move on to the next healthy cell.

“Our drug agent uses the same approach as current flu treatments — by preventing neuraminidase from cutting its ties with the infected cell,” said senior author Professor Steve Withers. “But our agent latches onto this enzyme like a broken key stuck in a lock, rendering it useless.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that influenza affects three to five million people globally each year, causing 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. In some pandemic years, the figure rose to millions.

“One of the major challenges of the current flu treatments is that new strains of the flu virus are becoming resistant, leaving us vulnerable to the next pandemic,” Withers said.

“By taking advantage of the virus’s own ‘molecular machinery’ to attach itself,” he added, “the new drug could remain effective longer, since resistant virus strains cannot arise without destroying their own mechanism for infection.”

Source: University of British Columbia; February 21, 2013.

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