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New flu therapy could be effective against COVID-19

The worldwide impact of influenza on mortality remains one of the most adverse of any infectious disease. In the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that flu has resulted in between 9 million – 45 million illnesses, between 140,000 – 810,000 hospitalizations, and between 12,000 – 61,000 deaths annually since 2010.

Flu vaccines have been successful in limiting the severity and spread of the virus. However, due to the virus evolving rapidly, the vaccine’s yearly composition may fail to match the most virulent strains. This means that many vaccinated patients can still contract the flu. 

A new therapy for influenza virus infections, developed by Purdue University scientists, has been shown to eradicate advanced infections from representative strains of influenza A and B viruses.

The research study published in Nature Communications uses a targeted therapy approach against influenza. Philip S. Low, the Purdue Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, states that “we target all of the antiviral drugs we develop specifically to virus-infected cells. That way, we treat the diseased cells without harming healthy cells. We use this capability to deliver immune-activating drugs selectively into flu-infected cells. There is also the potential that this therapy will prove efficacious in people infected with COVID-19.

In this study, the scientists have designed and synthesized a bifunctional small molecule by uniting the neuraminidase inhibitor, zanamivir, with the highly immunogenic hapten, dinitrophenyl (DNP). This specifically targets the surface of free virus and viral-infected cells. 

  • A neuraminidase inhibitor is a type of drug that blocks the neuraminidase enzyme. They are antiviral drugs that block the function of viral neuraminidases of the influenza virus. This prevents its reproduction by budding from the host cell.
  • A hapten is a molecule that reacts with a specific antibody but is not immunogenic on its own. It can be made immunogenic by conjugation to a suitable carrier (in this case zanamivir). 
  • Zanamivir is an antiviral drug that helps you to fight flu viruses in your body. Antiviral drugs can reduce fever and flu symptoms and shorten the time you are unwell.

By designing these molecules that specifically target virus-infected cells, they avoid the collateral toxicity that occurs when antiviral drugs are taken up by uninfected cells.

The scientists state that the new therapy could prove effective against other pathogenic virus infections such as COVID-19, hepatitis B, HIV, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Written by Helen Massy, BSc


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. Burden Of Influenza. [online] Available at: <,61%2C000%20deaths%20annually%20since%202010.> [Accessed 15 December 2020].

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020. What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 December 2020].

Liu, X., Zhang, B., Wang, Y., Haymour, H., Zhang, F., Xu, L., Srinivasarao, M. and Low, P., 2020. A universal dual mechanism immunotherapy for the treatment of influenza virus infections. Nature Communications, 11(1).

Service, P., 2020. New Therapy For Flu May Help In Fight Against COVID-19. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 15 December 2020].

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay 



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