Please also see the linked video interview with Dr. Wang (available for download).
Each year in the U.S., 10 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. Annually, an estimated 36,000 deaths and more than 200,000 hospitalizations are attributed to seasonal flu-related complications.
These numbers make the work of one University of Arizona College of Pharmacy researcher important to everybody. Jun Wang, PhD, a COP assistant professor and BIO5 Institute investigator, is developing new, effective treatments for the influenza A viruses.
Currently, there are only two classes of FDA-approved anti-influenza drugs – neuraminidase inhibitors, sold under names such as Tamiflu, in use since 1999, and M2 inhibitors, sold under names such as Symmetrel and Flumadine, approved for flu treatment since 1966 and 1994, respectively.
“Currently, 99 percent of the circulating flu viruses are resistant to M2 channel blockers, so this class of drugs is no longer useful,” Wang says. “The other class of drugs, neuraminidase inhibitors, are the only treatments we have. It’s the first line of defense, but it’s also the last line of defense.”
“Tamiflu used to be a very effective drug; however, its efficacy continuously drops because of the evolution of multidrug-resistant viruses. It will only be a matter of time before resistant strains become prevalent.” Wang says. “We had better be prepared and have something ready before the outbreak of the next influenza pandemic. If people only pay attention when it becomes a problem, it’s too late.”
To discover the next generation of antiviral drugs that are able to combat multidrug-resistant influenza strains, the Wang research team focuses on a viral protein that has few mutations, so there are fewer variations that need a “custom” drug. This makes their work strategic in preventing influenza outbreaks. Using a combination of advanced technologies such as computer-aided drug design, medicinal chemistry, electrophysiology and antiviral assays, Wang and his team have designed a new kind of drug.
“What is exciting about our drugs is that they are highly active against flu viruses that are isolated from human patients, including viruses that are resistant to both adamantanes and Tamiflu,” Wang says, “so these drugs will be your next choice if the current drug fails.”
Wang’s team is currently improving the potency of their proposed drug and testing several compounds in animals. Animal testing will be done in collaboration with Daniel Pérez, who researches interspecies transmission of influenza in mice and ferrets at the University of Georgia.
Developing new drugs is not easy.
“The further you advance in the drug discovery pipeline,” Wang says, “the more variables you may encounter, but the good news is that everything so far looks promising with our approach. We hope to be able to move this drug to clinical trials within five years or so.”
This research is funded by NIH grant number 1R21AI119187-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.