Fortune reports that pharmaceutical maker Shionogi, based in Japan, obtained an accelerated approval to use a new drug to treat the flu.
The drug, called Xofluza, appears to have several advantages over Swiss pharmaceutical Roche’s Tamiflu. Xofluza takes only one dose to be effective, while Tamiflu requires the patient to commit to taking two doses a day for five days. Some people lack the willpower to stick with the treatment, making the infection last even longer. Xofluza is also able to kill the flu virus in 24 hours, unlike Tamiflu, which takes three days to reach the same effect. This doesn’t mean that the flu symptoms will disappear in one day when you take Xofluza; in fact, symptoms take the same to disappear with both drugs, but with Xofluza, the symptoms aren’t as intense and start to disappear faster.
The quality that sets Xofluza apart from other antiviral drugs is the way it cuts virus replication by inhibiting an enzyme the flu virus needs to multiply.
Unfortunately, Xofluza could take until next year to reach the U.S. Roche is allied with Shionogi, and will have rights to commercialize the antiviral drug in markets outside of Japan if and when it wins regulatory approval abroad.
Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, a federal health report released on Friday indicates that the worst of the flu season may be over, but we are not out of the woods yet. The current influenza epidemic is the worst since the swine flu pandemic of 2009-2010, and it continues to claim victims. Another 13 child deaths were reported for the week ending last Saturday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That brings the total to at least 97 pediatric deaths since October. The CDC reports that about three-quarter of the children who died had not received the vaccine. Experts say one reason healthy children are particularly vulnerable has to do with how their immune system responds. For some who haven’t received a flu shot, infection with a flu strain they haven’t previously been exposed to can trigger their immune system to overreact. That can lead to widespread inflammation that is ultimately fatal.
Still, there are signs that things are improving. One of the early clues in the DNC tracking and reporting system indicating that the flu epidemic is winding down is the percentage of doctor visits due to flu infections. That measure dropped significantly last week, the first such decline of the season. About 6.4 percent of all doctor visits were for fever, cough, and other symptoms — down from 7.5 percent from the previous week.
“It has been a tough season so far this year, but this week we’re actually seeing visits to doctors’ offices, emergency departments, and outpatient clinics beginning to drop, so it looks like the peak of the season may actually be behind us,” Daniel Jernigan, head of CDC’s influenza division, said in a statement. Still, “we’re likely to see influenza continue to circulate until mid-April.”
This season has been particularly difficult because this year’s predominant flu strain, an influenza A virus known as H3N2, is the most deadly of the seasonal flu strains. It causes more complications and deaths, particularly among children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
In the 2014-2015 season, the flu vaccine’s poor match resulted in an overall effectiveness of 19 percent. This season’s vaccine is almost twice as effective overall, at 36 percent, according to an estimate by CDC.