New Drug Blocks Influenza

The new drug blocked even the highly
pathogenic H5N1 viruses; © PHIL

As available antiviral drugs are losing their potency this finding could make available a class of new antiviral drugs. The new work, reported online in the Journal of Virology, describes the discovery of a peptide - a small protein molecule - that effectively blocks the influenza virus from attaching to and entering the cells of its host, thwarting its ability to replicate and infect more cells.

"This gives us another tool," says Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a University of Wisconsin-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and the senior author of the new report. "We're quickly losing our antivirals."

The new drug, which was tested on cells in culture and in mice, conferred complete protection against infection and was highly effective in treating animals in the early stages of infection. Untreated infected animals typically died within a week. All of the infected animals treated with small doses of the drug at the onset of symptoms survived.

"Pretreatment with (the peptide) provided 100 percent protection against numerous subtypes (of flu), including the highly pathogenic H5N1 viruses...," according to the Journal of Virology report. The new drug, known as "entry blocker," is a fragment of a larger human protein whose role in biology is to help things pass through membranes such as those that encapsulate cells.

Although the peptide's precise mechanism for thwarting flu remains to be deciphered, it seems to work by blocking the virus' ability to latch onto a key cell surface molecule that the virus uses to get inside cells. The scientific team emphasized that while the new drug shows great promise, much work remains to determine optimal dosage, efficacy and safety before the drug can be tested in a human patient. One possibility is that the new agent could be used as part of an anti-influenza cocktail of drugs, much like those used to treat HIV infection.

MEDICA.de; Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison