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New Drug Blocks Influenza, Including Bird Flu Virus

. To survive and reproduce, viruses must gain access to cells where they make new infectious particles to infect yet more cells in a cascade of infection.

The scientific team emphasized that while the new drug shows great promise, much work remains to determine optimal dosage, efficacy and safety before the drug can be tested in a human patient. One possibility is that the new agent could be used as part of an anti-influenza cocktail of drugs, much like those used to treat HIV infection. The team hopes to move the research into preclinical phase as quickly as possible.

Currently, there are a few effective antiviral medications on the market for influenza, but they are beginning to show signs that they are losing their effectiveness, and scientists and health professionals worry that the flu virus, and especially the H5N1 bird flu virus, will evolve to the point where existing drugs are no longer effective. Drugs now on the market work by either preventing virus replication within the cell or preventing the release of viruses from the cell.

The peptide found by the Wisconsin group seems to work in an entirely different way.

"It attacks a completely different part of the virus life cycle," explains Curtis R. Brandt, a co-author of the study and a UW-Madison professor of medical microbiology and immunology and of ophthalmology and visual sciences. "The virus can't even get into the cell. The peptide is blocking the very earliest step in infection."

Antiviral drugs are considered to be a critical line of defense in the event of an influenza epidemic or pandemic. Vaccines are the most important defense, but new vaccines must be customized in response to an outbreak of disease and it can take as long as a year to formulate and manufacture vaccine in quantity. Antiviral drugs, it is anticipated, would be used to buy time to produce a vaccine in the event of a flu pandemic.

And one intriguing possibilit
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