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Can 'Universal' Flu Drug Stop Swine Flu?

H1N1 Swine Flu Will Test Claim That Drug Can Prevent or Cure Any Flu Type

Discovery of a 'Universal' Flu Drug continued...

Marasco and colleagues genetically engineered human monoclonal antibodies that block both lollipop-stem targets. The antibodies inactivated every flu bug they could find.

"And it gets even better than that," Marasco says. "If the virus can readily undergo genetic changes in this globular head, why shouldn't it be able to undergo changes in this stem? And it cannot. ... When we tried to make escape mutations; the virus fell apart. And when we tried to ask the virus to escape the antibody, it couldn't do it."

Universal Flu Drug: Affordable?

If the new drug works, so what? Can a new, high-tech drug really be made available to the people who most need it?

Marasco insists that the answer is yes. Here's why: Instead of offering the new drug to the highest bidder, Marasco and colleagues asked drug companies to guarantee that the drug would be made available to people who need it -- regardless of their ability to pay.

"My primary concern is global health," Marasco says. "There is plenty of money to be made from the prevention and treatment of seasonal flu. I do not want that to interfere with [our drug's] very real ability to be a preventative agent in a pandemic."

Marasco says major drug companies have accepted this proposal and are competing to license the antibodies.

Meanwhile, he says that preliminary studies suggest that 3 million doses of the drug cold be made in 12 weeks at a cost of less than $10 a dose.

To prevent flu, a dose of the antibodies would have to be given every three to four weeks. It's not a pill -- the antibodies must be delivered via injection. It's not yet clear how large a dose would be needed to treat a dangerous case of flu -- so far, the antibodies have only been tested in mice.

Human studies, Marasco says, should be up and running by the 2010-2011 flu season -- unless the threat of a flu pandemic hastens the process.

Eventually, of course, the goal will be to make a vaccine that will cause people to make these antibodies themselves. Such a vaccine would protect against every known type A flu -- and might make annual flu shots obsolete.

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