Opening a new front in the war against flu, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have reported the discovery of a novel compound that confers broad protection against influenza viruses, including deadly avian influenza.
The new work, reported online this week (Oct. 4, 2006) 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.
The new finding is important because it could make available a class of new antiviral drugs to prevent and treat influenza at a time when fear of a global pandemic is heightened and available antiviral drugs are losing their potency.
"This gives us another tool," says Stacey Schultz-Cherry, a UW-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and the senior author of the new report. "We're quickly losing our antivirals."
In event of a killer flu strain pandemic rapid shift of this peptide into production and distribution could save millions of lives.
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.
I am amazed at how effective this peptide is in animals. We need human trials.
The peptide blocks influenza viruses at a much earlier stage than existing anti-viral drugs such as Tamiflu.
"It attacks a completely different part of the virus life cycle," explains Curtis R. Brandt, a co-author of the study and a UW-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "The virus can't even get into the cell. The peptide is blocking the very earliest step in infection."
An influenza pandemic could kill tens or even hundreds of millions of people if it happened in the short term. But in the medium to long term I think influenza will become a completely defeated disease. 10 years from now at least in industrialized countries the risk of a killer pandemic seems small. We'll have biotechnologies for rapidly scaling up vaccine production. We'll also have far better anti-virals such as this peptide discovered at the University of Wisconsin. I expect we'll also have very good drugs for controlling the inflammation response so that an excessive immune and inflammation response won't fatally damage the bodies of infected people.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 09 08:04 PM Biotech Pathogen Control|