An international team of scientists have discovered new molecular compounds that could prove to be a new weapon in the continuing arms race against the influenza virus.
The researchers manipulated an enzyme critical to the spread of influenza. The group hopes the enzyme will lead to a new generation of anti-viral medications that influenza cannot adapt to as easily.
Both the current drugs and the hypothetical new drugs will focus on the enzyme neuramidase, which is key to the spread of flu virus particles. Neuramidase helps flu particles escape from a cell after replication. It digests sialic acid, a sugar on the cell surface, which allows the spread of the flu to healthy cells. Tamiflu and Relenza both inhibit neuramidase's ability to do this.
The new compounds will work differently. It prevents the neuramidase from working by binding to it and rendering the enzyme inactive. This prevents the viral particles from escaping the host cell and infecting nearby healthy cells. Like Tamiflu, the new compounds are water soluble, meaning they can be taken in pill form. While they are not a cure, these new compounds will give us another method to contain flu outbreaks before they become epidemic.