Existing antiviral drug could treat H7N9 flu

Novavax ($NVAX) and Novartis ($NVS) have both been racing to bring to market a vaccine for the avian H7N9 flu, which has caused more than 130 infections and 43 deaths in China. But in the absence of an approved vaccine, researchers at Kansas State University think they've found an existing antiviral drug that could squelch the infection.

H7N9 viruses are resistant to antiviral flu drugs like Tamiflu or Relenza, which are M2-ion channel blockers, because of mutation in respective viral proteins.

In a study led by Juergen Richt, director of the university's U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, investigators found that Alferon N can inhibit wild type and Tamiflu-resistant H7N9 virus replication in vitro. Alferon N is currently used to treat viral infections like genital warts. The research is published in the journal Expert Review of Anti-infective Therapy.

"Since Alferon N is approved for clinical use, this would allow a rapid regulatory approval process for this drug under pandemic threat," Richt said in a statement.

Richt and his colleagues are working with scientists at Hemispherx Biopharma ($HEB) to develop novel pharmacological treatments for H7N9.

While previous pandemic threats have tended to fizzle out, scientists believe H7N9 is so deadly because humans lack an existing immunity against the H7 subtype influenza viruses. Without an approved commercial vaccine on the market yet, antiviral drugs are critical tools for the treatment of H7N9 infection.

- read the press release
- see the study abstract

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