Is new drug key to fighting flu?

Scientists are stepping up the fight against resistant strains of the flu virus after finding a way to effectively ‘lock’ it in infected cells.

A new class of drugs has been developed that prevents the method the virus uses to leave cells and find new targets, and so far it has proved effective on many different strains, including those resistant to drugs like Tamiflu.

The flu virus uses proteins to enter and exit cells. Haemagglutinin allows it to make its way in, while neuraminidase then gives it the opportunity to leave infected cells and move to others.

The new drugs prevent the exit phase from happening so the virus gets ‘stuck’ inside a cell and cannot then infect others.

It is the equivalent of a “broken key stuck in a lock”, according to Professor Steve Withers of the University of British Columbia.

He led the research published in the Science journal and the drugs have already been proven to protect mice from infection.

He said flu research is regularly hampered by the increasing resistance of flu strains, meaning pandemics are possible, but the new drugs have the potential to remain effective for longer as they use the virus’s own method of attaching itself to cells.