New Anti Influenza Drugs could Combat Any Potential Flu Pandemic

According to research, researchers from LSTM and Imperial College London have come up with anti influenza medications which can easily fight back the viruses that have the possibility to affect a larger population. This has been only possible after targeting the receptor of the cells through which the virus enters and attacks the human body. The findings are published in the Journal of Immunology.

The research team led by LSTM’s Professor Richard Pleass that by the help of bioengineering a part of an antibody, viral proteins can be attacked which allows mutation in flu and in return causing the death of humans.

A year ago denoted the centennial of the 1918 influenza pandemic that asserted almost 100 million lives around the world, hence turning into the deadliest ailment episode in written history. Around 300,000-650,000 people die every year due to respiratory problems caused by the influenza outbreak. A large number of cases are reported only for elderly and children.

Professor Pleass explained: “Influenza vaccines have limited public health impact during pandemics, and current influenza vaccines are less efficacious than vaccines for many other infectious diseases. This is because influenza viruses that circulate in human and animal populations mutate two key viral surface proteins, haemagglutinin (HA) and neuraminidase (NA), thus allowing them to escape from protective antibodies produced through natural infection or vaccination”

Viruses usually enter the human body through their respiratory tract. The receptors present on the cells of the respiratory tract are lined excessively with sialic acid. Both HA and NA targets the sugar known as sialic acid.

The sialic acid-restricting contacts on HA and NA don’t change promptly, generally, the virus would not have the capacity to contaminate human cells. The researchers have edited antibody Fc fragments by increasing the concentration of sialic acid. Sialic acid attacks the conserved parts of HA and NA in order to inhibit their functions by binding them and restricting their interactions with human cells.

This research has paved a path for many other future findings too. Working on sialic acid has enabled these engineered biologicals to work against other virulent pathogens too like group B streptococci, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Mycoplasma genitalium, and Newcastle Disease Virus.

“Better anti-influenza therapeutics are urgently needed.” Continued Professor Pleass: “The transfer of antibodies from people recovering from influenza during the 1918 and 2009 pandemics reduced mortality from influenza by 50% and 26% respectively.

However, to be useful, these antibody medicines (also called FLU-IVIG) need to be manufactured in advance of future epidemics, which is obviously problematic as there may be modest or little neutralizing activity against newly emerging strains. Therefore, combinations of existing medicines, including FLU-IVIG, with sialic acid blockers could increase their efficacy while future-proofing against the next pandemic.”

Professor Sara Marshall, Head of Clinical and Physiological Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, who provided funding for this work, said: “This is a fascinating project and one which could have really far-reaching impact not only for influenza but as a platform technology to develop new medicines for many other diseases that are currently treated by antibodies.” This useful technology is currently presented for licensing.

Adeena Tariq

Adeena's professional life has been mostly in hospital management, while studying international business in college. Of course, she now covers topics for us in health.

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