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Cambridge University Science Magazine

Influenza undergoes a lifecycle that is fairly typical of most other viruses. Viral particles are taken up into the host cell and these hijack the host cell’s machinery, allowing the virus’s genetic material to be replicated. This results in the production of new viral particles that are then released and go on to infect other host cells. The two drugs currently available for treating Flu, Tamiflu and Relenza, prevent new virus particles leaving the host cell, stopping the virus from spreading. However the virus evolves rapidly and drug-resistant strains are beginning to emerge.

Scientists at Rutgers University in the U.S. decided to try and block another part of the virus lifecycle. They knew that anti-AIDs drugs had been developed which stop the replication of the HIV virus and so decided to try a similar approach to tackle influenza. The detailed chemical structure of the viral replication enzyme was solved and over 800 small molecules were screened to see whether they would bind to the enzyme. The best candidates were modified to make them more potent and specific and when tested, these chemicals blocked the ability of influenza to replicate in cells. Although further studies will be needed in animals and humans to see whether these chemical compounds will make good drugs, this study suggests that a new class of anti-flu medicines are on the horizon.

DOI: 10.1021/cb400400j

Written by Laura Pearce.