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Melbourne researchers tackle emerging drug-resistant flu strains

Research News
Sunday, March 8, 2015 - 10:15pm
Emerging antiviral-resistant influenza strains threaten to undermine the global investment in drug stockpiles designed to stem flu pandemics. But a group of researchers from the Institute and the University of Melbourne are working on a series of experiments and techniques to effectiveness of these drug-resistant flu viruses.

Their efforts have already informed Australia’s policies around its national pandemic response.

Scientists from the Institute’s Modelling and Simulation Unit and university, are working with virologists and immunologists at the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Influenza, have developed experiments using ferrets and associated mathematical techniques to interpret the data.

This model can be used to analyse the potential threat to public health of drug-resistant flu viruses detected through the WHO’s global surveillance network.

“Using this system, we established the role of two mutations in enabling drug-resistant strains to grow within and transmit between infected individuals – a concerning finding given the high proportion of currently circulating flu viruses that carry these mutations,” said researcher Jodie McVernon.

Seasonal flu outbreaks cause thousands of deaths internationally each year. Meanwhile, the potential for new strains to emerge from birds and pigs places the global population at risk of pandemics.

Current vaccines only protect against a few virus types, and development of a vaccine tailored to a new pandemic strain takes several months.

A class of anti-viral agents called neuraminidase inhibitors (NAI) has limited the spread and severity of influenza and most countries have drug stockpiles of these agents as part of the initial public health response in the event of pandemic outbreaks.

But flu strains resistant to these inhibitors could dramatically undermine this investment, according to the researchers.

The researchers explored alternative strategies for stockpiling and deploying neuraminidase inhibitors, to consider ways of reducing the risk posed by drug-resistance and mitigate its impact, using mathematical models that simulated pandemic responses.

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