Hamilton’s McMaster University researchers find effective flu treatment

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Published August 22, 2022 at 9:08 am

Researchers at Hamilton's McMaster University discovered a one-two punch using drugs and antibody therapy to treat the flu and help prevent pandemics.

Researchers at Hamilton’s McMaster University discovered that a class of well-known antiviral drugs could be part of a one-two punch to treat seasonal flu and prevent a flu pandemic when combined with antibody therapies.

When researchers combined antibody therapy with antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, they found that the combo was more effective than either approach alone. Not only was the combination significantly more efficient at killing infected cells, but the drugs were also more potent when combined with antibody therapy.

Researchers believe the findings, published in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, could inform new approaches to protecting high-risk groups during an emerging influenza pandemic,.

“Antibody therapies were used to treat COVID-19, and in theory they could be used to treat flu as a new therapeutic approach,” says Matthew Miller, a lead author of the study and director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

“We really need to have better strategies to protect people from flu pandemics because right now we don’t have anything,” he says.

“Our seasonal vaccines don’t protect us. And we’ve learned that we can’t make them quickly enough to vaccinate everybody if a new pandemic were to emerge.”

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Miller and his team have studied broadly neutralizing antibodies for more than a decade, examining how they could protect against all flu strains in their urgent pursuit of a universal flu vaccine.

Matthew Miller, director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research, says better strategies are needed to protect people from flu pandemics. (Photo by Matt Clarke/McMaster University)

Researchers studied the combination method on mice and found that the drugs improved the virus-fighting properties of the antibodies, which work by binding to the surface of an infected cell and then triggering the immune system to kill the cell before the virus can spread.

“The mechanism behind how the drug and the antibody therapies work together is very unique and surprising,” explains Ali Zhang, lead author of the research paper and a doctoral student in McMaster’s Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences. “This approach allows us to both disable a crucial component of the virus, and also boost our own immune system to better track down and prevent the spread of the infection.”

The combination therapy may also extend the life of current antiviral drugs because viruses are less likely to become resistant when delivered in conjunction with antibody therapy.

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