SFU virologist Masahiro Niikura and his doctoral student Nicole Bance are part of an international team of scientists that has discovered a new class of molecular compounds capable of killing the influenza virus.
Working on the premise that too much of a good thing can be a killer, the scientists have advanced previous methods of manipulating an enzyme that is key to how the virus replicates and spreads.
Their new compounds will help lead to a new generation of anti-influenza drugs the virus’ strains can’t adapt to and resist as easily as they do with Tamiflu, an anti-influenza drug that is becoming less effective.
The journal Science Express published the researchers’ findings online, describing how they used the newly discovered compounds to interrupt the ability of the enzyme, neuraminidase, to spread the virus.
Tamiflu and another anti-influenza drug, Relenza, interrupt neuraminidase’s capacity to help influenza detach from an infected cell’s surface by digesting sialic acid, a sugar on the surface of the cell.
The flu virus uses the same sugar to stick to the cell while invading it. Once attached the virus can invade the cell and replicate.
The newly discovered compounds stop the enzyme from dissolving the sialic acid, which prevents the virus from escaping the infected cell and spreading to healthy cells.
The new compounds are also more effective because they’re water-soluble. “They reach the patient’s throat where the flu virus is replicating after being taken orally,” says Niikura, a Faculty of Health Sciences associate professor.
“Influenza develops resistance to Relenza less frequently, but it’s not the drug of choice like Tamiflu because it’s not water-soluble and has to be taken as a nasal spray.