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Rheumatoid Arthritis Drug Might Fight Swine Flu
Date:5/29/2009

It helps regulate the immune system's response, study with mice shows

FRIDAY, May 29 (HealthDay News) -- Scientists are exploring the possibility that drugs that affect the immune system might one day serve as potent weapons to fight the flu, even the swine flu that's currently circulating around the globe.

The concept has worked with a group of lab mice that were treated with the rheumatoid arthritis drug abatacept (Orencia) after being given a lethal dose of influenza A virus, researchers report.

The mice were also loaded up with "memory" T-cells -- white blood cells that were programmed to react to this strain of flu.

Eighty percent of the treated mice lived, compared to only 50 percent of those left untreated, said Donna Farber, senior author of a paper published in the June 1 issue of The Journal of Immunology.

Basically, the drug enabled infection-fighting "memory" T cells to fight off the initial infection, but prevented them from overactivating the immune system, a process that can cause worse illness and even death.

The findings could have implications not only for the seasonal flu, which reappears with regularity each year, but for surprise outbreaks such as the swine flu.

"For the swine flu, there really are indications that you do get this sort of hyperimmune reaction," said Farber, who is a professor of surgery and microbiology and immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore. "Currently there is no treatment for people who are really ill from the flu, and there is already an indication that the immune system is too revved up [in these severe cases]. This could be a potential treatment for the flu."

The study was sponsored by Bristol-Myers Squibb, which makes Orencia, and the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Orencia was approved for use in the United States in 2005 and introduced to the market in early 2006 to tr
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