CSIRO announces flu breakthrough
The CSIRO has announced the successful design of a new drug that promises to safeguard against epidemic and pandemic flu strains.
So far the drug has been proven to be effective in preventing the spread of different strains of influenza in laboratory models – including the latest strains of the virus.
The breakthrough was a result of a global collaborative effort, including the CSIRO, the University of Bath and the University of British Columbia.
In order to infect a host, the flu virus first attaches binds itself to sugars on the cells surface. To be able to spread, the virus must then strip the cell of these sugars. The new drug works by preventing the virus from removing these sugars, thereby blocking it from infecting other cells. Given that all flu strains, regardless of strength, work in this manner, it is hoped that the new drug will be effective against all strains.
According to the latest statistics released by the World Health Organisation, the influenza virus kills approximately 500,000 people per year, with up to 2,500 of these deaths occurring in Australia. The annual cost of battling the virus is estimated to be around $85 million, and account for over 1.5 million in lost work days annually.
CSIRO scientist Dr Jenny McKimm-Breschkin, a researcher in the team that developed the first flu drug Relenza, said that understanding exactly how flu viruses become resistant to drugs has helped them to design a better flu drug.
"CSIRO researchers have shown that flu viruses continually mutate and some have become resistant to available treatments," Dr Jenny McKimm-Breschkin said.
"The new drug is effective against these resistant strains. As the site where the drug binds is found in all flu strains, the new drug is expected to be effective even against future flu strains.
"With millions of poultry currently infected with 'bird flu' globally, there are still concerns about its adaptation and potential to spread among humans, causing the next pandemic," she added.