Flu warfare may look different next year

Blood sample positive with influenza virus

New ways of preventing and treating the flu are on the horizon.

One experimental treatment developed by researchers in Japan has garnered plenty of attention, but only time will tell whether or not the drug is worthy of whole-hearted enthusiasm.

In October, Shionogi & Co. Ltd., based in Osaka, reported that its experimental drug baloxavir marboxil reduced influenza viral load to undetectable levels — killed the virus — within 24 hours for more than half of the 414 participants in a study.

However, Tamiflu, the antiviral many people now use to fight the flu, similarly destroyed the virus within 24 hours, though in only 9% of 346 patient participants, the company reported.

Shionogi also studied how long the drug took to relieve symptoms. Patients treated with baloxavir marboxil saw their symptoms alleviated, on average, in 53.7 hours; those given a placebo averaged 80.2 hours, the company said.

The drug ended fever significantly faster than the placebo (24.5 hours vs. 42 hours) and caused slightly less side effects, such as vomiting, than Tamiflu.

The drug works by disrupting the flu virus’ ability to infect cells in a different way than Tamiflu, according to the company.

In a statement, the company said that in nonclinical studies conducted in the laboratory and on mice, the experimental drug demonstrated efficacy against seasonal flu strains as well as Tamiflu-resistant flu strains. The drug also proved effective against avian flu strains (such as H7N9) “of which potential outbreak is one of several global public health concerns,” according to the company.

Shionogi believes the single dose necessary for treatment should help patients take the treatment as required. Tamiflu, by contrast, requires multiple doses over several days.

The company is working with Swiss pharmaceutical company F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd. to develop and commercialize the drug, which is not yet available either in Japan or globally.

The company reported in October that it will submit applications to both Japan’s drug regulatory agency and the US Food and Drug Administration yet did not outline additional international plans for gaining drug approval. Considering this time frame, the drug will not become available in the United States for at least two years.

The evidence indicates that Shionogi has developed a safe and effective flu treatment, however, as with any new drug, the real world experiences of thousands of sick patients will determine its true value.

Meanwhile, instead of treating the flu, other researchers are trying to prevent people from getting sick.

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