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Drug Makers Seek to Shorten the Flu with New Treatments
Posted on April 2nd, 2018 by Christy J. Wilson in Pharma R&D
This flu season, which has peaked but isn’t over quite yet, has been particularly brutal. Last month, NBC News reported that it was already on track to be as bad as the H1N1 swine flu pandemic in 2009. As of that reporting, there had already been 114 pediatric deaths this season and the flu was still at elevated levels in most states in the U.S. While the flu vaccine may still be the best way to prevent influenza, it doesn’t stop all strains and the simple reality is that many people never get around to getting one—meaning that pharmaceutical companies have plenty of incentive to develop antiviral drugs that help lessen the misery of the flu and shorten its duration.
Japanese pharma company Shionogi is the latest to enter this space – and a grand entrance it was. While many people were battling the sickness in February, the drug maker announced that Japanese officials had granted accelerated approval of their new treatment Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil). Xofluza comes with an extra “wow factor,” which is Shionogi’s claim that it can kill the flu virus in a single day with just one dose. This would seem to be a significant improvement from the current drugs on the market, the most well-known of which is Roche’s Tamiflu (oseltamivir).
But is it too good to be true? It doesn’t seem so, at least if Shionogi’s Phase III clinical trial is any indication. “The study found that baloxavir marboxil (or Xofluza) stopped an infected person from shedding flu virus earlier (median 24 hours) than oseltamivir (median 72 hours),” explains Bruce Y. Lee of Forbes. “Those taking baloxavir marboxil also had lower measured amounts of viruses than those taking oseltamivir throughout the first 3 days of the infection. Baloxavir marboxil also seemed to shorten the duration of flu symptoms (median 53.7 hours compared to a median of 80.2 hours for those taking placebo).”
According to Science Alert, Shionogi developed the drug using discoveries that it made in anti-HIV drugs. Sy Mukherjee of Fortune says that Xofluza’s success is due to its unique action mechanism, which, unlike its antiviral competitors, abruptly halts the flu virus’s replication by inhibiting the enzyme that it needs to multiply. “That may sound like a major blow to Roche and Tamiflu; but the Swiss drug maker is actually allied with Shionogi, and will have the rights to commercialize the treatment in markets outside of Japan (including the U.S.) if and when it wins regulatory approval abroad,” reports Mukherjee.
While the drug won’t be able to help any flu victims this season, there is hope that it could be helping the fight against influenza by next winter. By then, it could already be seeing competition from another ambitious drug maker. Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen unit is working on an experimental therapy called pimodivir, which the FDA has fast-tracked. “Discovered by Vertex Pharmaceuticals Inc., the drug targets part of a gene present in the majority of seasonal flu viruses, blocking them from making copies of their genetic material,” writes Bloomberg’s Jason Gale.
With these promising new drugs on the horizon, hopefully next flu season won’t be quite as harsh as this one was.
All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.
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Christy J. Wilson
Sr. Director, Pharma and Biotech Segment
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