According to World Health Organization (WHO) estimates, between 3 and 5 million people get influenza each year globally. And between 290 thousand and 650 thousand die as a result of associated respiratory diseases.
A research team led by biomedical engineer Richard Plemper of Atlanta has successfully tested an antiviral flu drug, but so far only on animals such as ferrets and in human respiratory mucosa tissue in the lab.
The active substance, called EIDD-2801, blocks an enzyme called RNA polymerase, which plays an important role in the spread of the virus genotype. As a result, the drug triggers mutations in the virus genome. If enough mutations occur, the genome becomes ineffective and the virus can no longer multiply. Scientists published their research this October 23 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
Effectiveness against many strains of viruses
«The molecule is highly effective against influenza,» says Plemper, who teaches biomedicine at Georgia State University and developed EIDD-2801 in collaboration with colleagues at Emory University. «It was tested on a wide range of all flu strains and, more importantly, it has a high barrier that the virus can barely overcome,» he says.
Among other things, the drug was also tested against the swine flu virus that was dasated in 2009 worldwide. Ferrets are very similar to humans in their response to influenza viruses. After treatment with the drug, they showed significantly shorter fever lapses than animals in the comparison group.
Previous antiviral agents always encountered the problem of viruses developing drug resistance through mutation. Dr. Mart Toots, one of the study’s lead authors, now points out that it will be very difficult for the virus to escape the new molecule.
«We haven’t identified specific resistance mutations so far,» he said. «The genetic barrier against viral resistance is high,» he says, so the substance has a «high clinical potential as a next-generation flu drug.»
Researchers want to test the drug for the first time in humans in 2020.