Influenza is a potentially deadly illness that causes grief every flu season. Currently, while this year the common strain is considered mild, there have still be recorded deaths. Now, a new experimental drug is giving researchers hope at eventually curing the flu.
According to Futurism, this drug, which has not yet been tested on humans, is a promising development in the fight against the flu virus. The research, which uses small molecule technology, has shown a 100 percent success rate on lab rats so far — even when the animals were infected with a deadly strain of influenza.
Ian Wilson, a biologist at Scripps Research Institute and a co-author of the study, was excited by the findings.
“If you told me 10 years ago that we’d have a small molecule that could do this I would have been completely surprised,” he told NPR.
“It’s a proof-of-principle that small, manageable drugs can behave like these really powerful antibodies.”
So, how does the new drug work?
According to NPR, the new drug is broader acting and will help to cover various strains of influenza. Essentially, it is designed to “target areas of the influenza virus that hold constant from strain to strain,” rather than combating each individual strain of the flu.
“If you told me 10 years ago that we'd have a small molecule that could do this I would have been completely surprised. It's a proof-of-principle that small, manageable drugs can behave like these really powerful antibodies."— Amesh Adalja (@AmeshAA) March 8, 2019
During the research, lab rats were given small molecules which were designed to replicate the same sort of microbe-fighting antibodies that are found in vaccines. Broadly neutralizing antibodies, which were identified more than a decade ago, have now been used to help “pry open” cell membranes. As a result of this, it is designed to target the part of the influenza virus that is common from strain to strain. This, in turn, could lead to more broader-range vaccines regarding the flu.
“The field got excited about using these to potentially design more universal vaccines,” says Ian Wilson, a structural biologist at the Scripps Research Institute who also co-authored the study.
Currently, besides flu vaccines, Tamiflu is the only other drug that can be used to fight the flu. Tamiflu works by “preventing the virus from replicating in our bodies,” according to NPR.
Jesse Bloom, who is a virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and wasn’t involved with the research, is excited by the findings.
“It’s a really interesting study,” she said.
“We need more drugs in the fight against flu, and this approach could provide them.”
In addition to the promising results regarding influenza, this new drug was also used effectively on human lung cells which were grown in the laboratory.
The research findings were recently published in the Science publication. As yet, research is still underway and it will likely be many more years still before this drug is available for human use.