Scientists achieve breakthrough with universal flu vaccine candidate

Scientists from Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization recently contributed to the development of a new drug that could protect against pandemic and epidemic flu strains.

In a laboratory model, the antiviral agent was effective in preventing the spread of different strains of influenza, including drug-resistant viral strains. Current antiviral agents like oseltamivir may have limited future utility due to growing resistance, but the new class of specific, mechanism-based anti-influenza drug targets a site found in all flu strains, Global Biodefense reports.

The drug alters a viral enzyme to prevent the flu virus from removing sugars on the surface of cells, blocking the virus from binding to the cells and preventing it from spreading.

"CSIRO researchers have shown that flu viruses continually mutate and some have become resistant to available treatments," Jenny McKimm-Breschkin, a CSIRO scientist, said, according to Global Biodefense. "The new drug is effective against these resistant strains. As the site where the drug binds is found in all flu strains, the new drug is expected to be effective even against future flu strains."

Steve Withers, the leader of the research team for the past seven years, said the findings in the study are extremely positive.

"This antiviral drug would play an important role as the first line of defense in modulating disease severity and in controlling a pandemic while vaccines are prepared," Withers said, according to Global Biodefense.

Withers said that additional studies are needed to determine the efficacy of the antiviral against a broad range of flu strains.

The breakthrough was the result of a collaboration between scientists from CSIRO, the University of Bath and the University of British Columbia, Global Biodefense reports.