(CN) – The flu’s days may be numbered thanks to a new antiviral drug that shows promise in treating the virus and its symptoms.
The breakthrough drug has shown the ability to stop the spread of the influenza virus in the respiratory system of ferrets and in human airway tissue, according to study published on Wednesday in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
The flu is capricious and comes in four varieties. Seasonal flu shots and their effectiveness can’t be knocked down, but they’re often a stopgap in the face of rapidly changing influenza viruses that can develop resistance to antiviral drugs.
For sensitive groups like the elderly, children and those with weakened immune systems, the influenza virus can be fatal. According to the World Health Organization, up to 650,000 respiratory deaths stemmed from the virus in 2017.
Researchers from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences at Georgia State University say their new research on the compound EIDD-2801 shows the drug can induce mutation in the genetic material of the influenza virus. The drug targets and stops the mechanism that allows the virus to replicate and spread.
Researchers exposed human bronchial tracheal epithelial cells and ferrets, which researchers say is the most informative animal model for human influenza disease, to the drug. They then exposed the cells and ferrets to seasonal influenza and pandemic viruses like swine flu, which can catch the medical community off guard when a new strain infects the population and spreads.
The research showed the antiviral drug reduced the volume of the virus, while the time the fever lingered was also significantly shorter in treated ferrets than in the control groups.
Study author Mart Toots from the Institute for Biomedical Sciences said the next generation of antiviral drugs will need to be effective, safe and able to tackle the problem of drug resistance.
Toots and Alex Greninger from the University of Washington say they’ve developed a drug sequence the influenza virus cannot easily avoid. Professor Richard Plemper of the Institute for Biomedical Sciences says the barrier for viral resistance is high and the research did not show any viral mutations become resistant.
“We believe that this compound has high clinical potential as a next-generation influenza drug that combines key antiviral features,” says Plemper, senior study author.
The compound – which can be administered orally – has entered formal preclinical development and clinical testing is expected to start next year, according to the study authors.