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Universal Flu Drug Stops All Flu Types

'Antibody Cocktail' Would Protect Against Pandemic or Seasonal Flu
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 virus.

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 pandemic.

"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 said.

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 discoveries."

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 imminent.

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