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New Compounds Show Promise for Anti-Flu Medicines

Scientists look for vaccine alternatives (October 4)

Researchers at Rutgers University have identified chemical agents that block the ability of the influenza virus to replicate itself in cell culture.

According to the investigators, these novel compounds show promise for a new class of antiviral medicines to fight potential pandemic influenzas, such as the looming “bird flu” threats caused by the H5N1 influenza A virus and the new H7N9 virus responsible for a 2013 outbreak in China.

The new findings were published in ACS Chemical Biology, a journal of the American Chemical Society.

Timely production of a vaccine is difficult when a pandemic flu strikes. A viable alternative is to treat with drugs, the researchers say.

Just as bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics, some flu strains have developed resistance to Tamiflu (oseltamivir, Genentech), the only orally available anti-flu drug, notes lead investigator Dr. Eddy Arnold.

Arnold and his colleagues have been working to create drugs beyond Tamiflu, especially ones that target different parts of the virus, using an approach that helped in the development of effective anti-AIDS drugs. By synthesizing chemical compounds that bind to metal ions in a viral enzyme, the researchers found they could halt the enzyme’s ability to activate a key step in the virus’ replication process.

The enzyme that the scientists are attacking is especially crafty because it steals material from human cells to disguise the invading flu virus in a process called “cap-snatching.” These “caps” are small chemical structures that prime the process for reading genetic information. “What we’re doing by blocking or inhibiting this enzyme is to interfere with the flu’s ability to disguise itself,” Arnold said.

One pharmaceutical company, Merck, applied the approach of targeting metal ion-containing active sites in the HIV enzyme integrase and developed a highly successful anti-AIDS drug, Arnold noted.

Source: Rutgers University; October 4, 2013.

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