Researchers led by Masahiro Niikura and Nicole Bance at Simon Fraser University have developed a new class of molecular compounds that can be used to develop more effective drugs which flu virus strains cannot easily adapt to.
Their study reveals how to use their newly-discovered compounds to interrupt the enzyme neuraminidase's facilitation of the flu's spread, reports the journal Science Express.
Tamiflu and another flu drug, Relenza, focus on interrupting neuraminidase's ability to help flu virus detach from an infected cell's surface by digesting sialic acid, a sugar on the cell surface.
The virus uses the same sugar to stick to the cell while invading it. Once attached, influenza can invade the cell and replicate.
This is where the newly-discovered compounds come to the still-healthy cells' rescue. They clog up neuraminidase, stopping the enzyme from dissolving the sialic acid, which prevents the virus from escaping the infected cell and spreading, according to a Simon Fraser statement.
The new compounds are also more effective because they are water-soluble. "They reach the patient's throat where the flu virus is replicating after being taken orally," says Niikura, associate professor.
"Influenza develops resistance to Replenza less frequently, but it's not the drug of choice like Tamiflu because it's not water-soluble and has to be taken as a nasal spray.
"Our new compounds are structurally more similar to sialic acid than Tamiflu. We expect this closer match will make it much more difficult for influenza to adapt to new drugs," adds Niikura.
Ultimately, the new compounds will buy scientists more time to develop new vaccines for emerging strains of influenza that are resistant to existing vaccines.