Imagine if you could reach for a nasal spray and reduce your raging winter flu to a slight sniffle and a mild cough. It’s a scenario that may no longer be pure fantasy.
Australian and international scientists have developed a prototype drug that’s had a staggering effect on sickness levels in mice infected with cold and flu viruses.
“With this test drug, we were able to almost abolish the load of the virus in the lung tissue, compared to an uninfected control,” says one of the drug’s developers, Dr Stavros Selemidis, from Melbourne’s RMIT University.
“It was a staggering reduction of over 90 per cent in the viral load, or burden, of the virus. Lung inflammation was down by over 80 per cent.”
The scientists’ work has just been published in the prestigious scientific and medical journal Nature Communications.
Tests on human cells have been equally promising, leaving Dr Selemidis and his colleagues excited about what lies ahead.
The drug was developed after the scientists from universities in Australia, the United States and Ireland identified a crucial protein that’s activated when cells become infected with a virus.
The protein – Nox2 oxidase – suppresses the body’s immune response to infection, allowing the virus to take hold and prosper.
“Essentially this protein, when activated by a virus, dampens the ability of the immune system to clear that virus,” Dr Selemidis says.
“This drug blocks that protein, putting the host in a better position to clear it.”
The drug is a modification of one that was developed about 15 years ago. With the help of chemists, it’s been tweaked so it can be delivered to the site in each cell where the protein is expressed.
Dr Selemidis says much work remains to be done to discover the drug’s full potential.
But it’s believed it might also be able to help people infected with dengue and HIV, because those viruses also activate the same protein.
“Theoretically it should operate against dengue and against HIV but we haven’t tested that yet,” he said.
The scientists are yet to find an industry partner to further research and develop the drug.
But Dr Selemidis says that if one was found tomorrow, a game-changing nasal spray to defeat winter ailments might be possible within a decade.
Dr Selemidis and his RMIT colleague Dr Eunice To collaborated with Professor Doug Brooks from the University of South Australia, Professor John O’Leary, from Dublin’s Trinity College, Professor Christopher Porter, from Monash University, and other scientists and clinicians.