07:47pm Thursday 02 July 2020

Winning the war against influenza

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A series of inhibitors has been developed at Griffith University’s Institute for Glycomics, which will aid the design of new anti-influenza drugs, potentially including those for pandemic influenza outbreaks reports a paper in Nature Communications today.

The study, led by Griffith’s Professor Mark von Itzstein in collaboration with an international team of researchers from Institut Pasteur Paris and the University of St Andrews has moved a step closer to developing next generation anti-influenza drugs.

Professor Mark von Itzstein, Director of the Institute for Glycomics, said this multi-disciplinary study represents a significant breakthrough.

“The world is ill-prepared to tackle existing and emerging viruses due to the lack of available drugs and vaccines,” he said.

“We know going into the 21st century that coming up with anti-infective drugs whether it’s fighting viruses, bacteria or parasites presents humanity with a major issue.

“These carbohydrate-based compounds will inhibit the propagation of the recent and 1918 pandemic influenza viruses and given the level of resistance to current anti-influenza drugs, new weapons are highly desirable. The end game is to have a number of drugs available that can tackle these viruses.”

Influenza has a significant impact on human health. Annual influenza epidemics exact a high toll in morbidity, estimated to be in the range of three to five million cases of severe illness, and mortality, with up to half a million deaths worldwide.

With no universal vaccine and limited options for treatment of avian and other deadly influenza strains available, Professor von Itzstein said casualties from a pandemic of an avian-derived or similar influenza-A strain could rival 1918 figures that killed 50 million people worldwide as well as have significant economic impact.

“Reportedly during 2009, there were over 37,000 confirmed cases of pandemic influenza (swine-origin /H1N1), which accounted for 4,855 cases of hospitalisation and 190 deaths.

“Some of these strains of influenza A have shown levels of resistance to the most widely used flu treatment, oseltamivir (Tamiflu).

“This evolutionary trend could be expected to continue, rendering some of our international drug stockpiles useless.”

Professor von Itzstein gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Honda Foundation Australia and the Australian Research Council.

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