Universal Flu Drug Stops All Flu Types
'Antibody Cocktail' Would Protect Against Pandemic or Seasonal Flu
Feb. 23, 2009 -- A new kind of drug cocktail kills all types of flu bugs and
could protect against pandemic or seasonal flu.
"I certainly believe that a therapy for all kinds of influenza may be
within our grasp," study researcher Robert Liddington, DPhil, director of
infectious diseases at the Burnham Institute in La Jolla, Calif., said at a
news conference announcing the finding.
The treatment is based on new monoclonal antibodies that attack flu viruses
in a shared Achilles heel. Of the many different subtypes of flu, there are
only two basic patterns for this vulnerable, essential part of the flu
And despite heroic efforts, researchers could not breed a flu strain
resistant to the treatment -- suggesting that there's only a very small chance
that mutated viruses could render the treatment obsolete.
The breakthrough finding is a joint effort from labs at the Burnham
Institute; Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston; and the CDC in Atlanta.
Like many breakthroughs, the finding was partly accidental. The researchers
were, at first, trying only to create a treatment to stop the H5N1 bird flu
virus, the most likely candidate for igniting the next worldwide flu
"We raised this novel family of human antibodies against highly
pathogenic bird flu, but we were surprised and delighted to find these
antibodies neutralize the majority of other flu viruses," Liddington
While monoclonal antibodies against flu are new, a wide range of drugs are
based on this technology. That means the new, fully human anti-flu antibodies
could become new human drugs relatively quickly, study researcher Wayne
Marasco, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Dana-Farber Cancer
Institute and Harvard Medical School, said at the news conference.
"We hope these antibodies are in clinical trials during the 2011-2012
flu season -- maybe earlier," Marasco said. "This really is an
important advance in the field of antiviral therapy. The possibility of having
a universal therapy for flu is made more real and possible because of these
While full testing and approval of the new treatment will take time, it's
possible that the process would move much faster if a flu pandemic appeared
"If a pandemic flu variant arose in, say, Asia next week, many or most
of these procedures could be greatly expedited. That would be my hunch,"
In mouse studies using a deadly strain of the H5N1 bird flu, mice were
protected even when given the antibodies three days after infection with an
otherwise lethal dose of the virus. The finding suggests that the treatment
could be used to snuff out the early stages of a flu pandemic by quarantining
and treating everyone in the area of an outbreak.
Universal Flu Vaccine?
At the core of the breakthrough was the finding that the vulnerable part of
the flu virus is not the part attacked by current flu vaccines.