The critical unmet need for novel antiviral drugs to combat epidemic influenza

by Robert W. Buckheit III

January 23, 2018

Public health institutions throughout the United States are struggling to combat the spread of influenza, as the incidence of flu remains widespread in 49 out of 50 states. In the midst of an unusually active flu season, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) is currently reporting influenza activity that has not been observed since influenza surveillance tracking was begun thirteen years ago. Put succinctly by the director of the CDC's Influenza division, "There’s a lot of flu in lots of places". CDC reports indicate that influenza A, H3N2, is the most common circulating influenza strain, with more limited incidence of influenza B. This strain is similar to the flu strains in Australia, a country that was also hit particularly hard by the flu in late 2017. In multiple regions across the United States, the large influx of sick individuals has left hospital staff and facilities strained, with temporary medical tents being erected in hospital parking lots to increase access for patients who need hospital care. Currently, it is unknown whether the current rate of influenza activity is peeking earlier in the influenza season than usual, or if the incidence rate will continue to rise into February. In the United States, federal officials have reported that the flu epidemic has currently claimed the lives of over 30 children, with that number expected to increase. Officials at the CDC stress the importance of receiving annual vaccination to treat flu incidence. While the circulating strain does seem to match the vaccine strain included in this year's vaccine, some research suggests that the flue vaccine is less effective against H3N2 compared to previous years H1N1 viruses. The CDC recommends flu vaccines for everyone over the age of 6 months old, and even if the vaccine strain is not a perfect match, vaccinated individuals may benefit from reduced symptoms compared to those experience by unvaccinated individuals.

Until a universal flu vaccine is developed, vaccination and rapid treatment with anti-influenza drugs are the most effective means of preventing serious illness. There is a pressing need for more effective therapeutic products against influenza and other respiratory viruses. The current FDA-approved medications to treat influenza are not highly effective in all situations. Additionally, treatment has to be initiated rapidly after the onset of symptoms for the drugs to be effective. To compound the difficulties of the current treatment regiments, numerous circulating influenza strains already display resistance to regimens routinely used in the clinic. Novel influenza drugs could increase the effectiveness of current antiviral therapeutic agents, especially when allowing for synergistic combinations to combat influenza and the spread of drug resistance.

ImQuest BioSciences has extensive experience assisting commercial and academic clients to develop novel therapeutics for influenza and other respiratory viruses, including human rhinovirus, parainfluenza virus, and respiratory syncytial virus. Additionally, ImQuest has significant experience with the evaluation of two- and three-drug combinations of approved and experimental compounds to search for the most robust and effective combination therapy, as well as evaluation of the ability of the respiratory viruses to evade therapeutic intervention via resistant virus generation. Contact us to learn more about our innovative efficacy and toxicity screening programs, from mechanistic biochemical assays to combinatorial analysis with currently approved FDA therapeutic agents and small rodent and ferret models.

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