A new kind of drug to fight bird flu that will not suffer from the same kind of resistance problems as current treatments should begin clinical trials within the next three years, thanks to a new research grant.
Dr Andrew Watts from the University of Bath (UK) and Dr Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin from CSIRO (Australia) have been awarded over 408,000 from the Medical Research Council (MRC) to develop a new class of inhibitor they have discovered into a new kind of antiviral influenza drug.
The search for an alternative flu drug has become all the more pressing as the full extent of resistance the ability of the influenza virus to withstand drug treatments - becomes more widely understood.
Both Tamiflu and Relenza, the two drugs currently being stockpiled by governments in preparation for a global outbreak of bird flu, are inherently susceptible to resistance because of the way they work.
The first major warning of the practical implications of this came with research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in December 2005.
This reported that from a group of eight Vietnamese bird flu patients treated with Tamiflu (also known as Oseltamivir), two patients showed initial signs of recovery before eventually dying. This suggests that the influenza virus was able to rapidly develop resistance to the drug.
In another study in Japan, the virus developed resistance in one in six children treated with Tamiflu for ordinary forms of flu.
Although acting upon the same target on the influenza virus as existing treatments, the new drug molecules being developed are specific for a part of the virus that is unable to mutate (change), which means it should be impossible for the influenza virus to develop resistance.
"Tamiflu and Relenza remain our best lines of defence against a flu pandemic, but we need to be working on better alternatives that do not suffer the same inherent resistance proble
Contact: Andrew McLaughlin
University of Bath