University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers found that a drug called Eritoran could protect mice from death after they have been infected with a lethal dose of influenza virus.
The potential value of this drug as single therapy or in combination with antivirals is further supported by previous research that found that it is safe for use in humans.
The findings are of particular interest to scientists now that the latest deadly strain of flu, H7N9, is spreading in China - 82 people in China had been infected with the new strain of flu virus as of April 26, and 17 had died.
Previous scientific studies have revealed that acute lung injury caused by the influenza virus is the result of an immune reaction mediated by a protein called Toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4).
Senior author Stefanie Vogel, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Medicine at the University of Maryland, and colleagues previously demonstrated that mice that lack the ability to signal through TLR4 are highly refractory to influenza-induced lethality.
In their new study, they extend these findings by showing that Eritoran - a synthetic inhibitor of TLR4, originally developed by Eisai Inc. for treatment of sepsis - improved clinical symptoms and prevented death when administered up to six days after infection with the influenza virus.
Existing antiviral medications must be administered within two days of infection to be optimally effective.
The study was published in the journal Nature.