Flu therapy may also fight COVID-19

"We target all of the antiviral drugs we develop specifically to virus-infected cells," says Philip S. Low. "That way, we treat the diseased cells without harming healthy cells." (Credit: Getty Images)

A new therapy for flu may help in the fight against COVID-19.

The new therapy for influenza virus infections may also prove effective against many other pathogenic virus infections, including HIV and COVID-19.

In an average year, more than 2 million people in the United States are hospitalized with the flu, and 30,000 to 80,000 die from the flu or related complications.

The new method uses a targeted therapy approach against the virus infections.

“We target all of the antiviral drugs we develop specifically to virus-infected cells,” says Philip S. Low, a professor of chemistry at Purdue University.

“That way, we treat the diseased cells without harming healthy cells. We use this capability to deliver immune-activating drugs selectively into flu-infected cells. There is also the potential that this therapy will prove efficacious in people infected with COVID-19.”

The flu virus, like many other pathogenic viruses, exports its proteins into its host cell surface and then buds off nascent viruses in the process of spreading to adjacent host cells. Because these exported viral proteins are not present in the membranes of healthy host cells, the researchers have exploited the presence of viral proteins in infected cells by designing homing molecules that target drugs specifically to virus-infected cells, thereby avoiding the collateral toxicity that occurs when antiviral drugs are taken up by uninfected cells.

“We chose to start our tests with influenza virus because the results can often be applied to other enveloped viruses,” Low says.

“Our lab tests show that our process works in influenza infected mice that are inoculated with 100 times the lethal dose of virus,” he says.

The new therapy may prove effective against other pathogenic virus infections such as hepatitis B, HIV, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), Low says.

Low also is leading a team to develop new treatment options for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Lung fibrosis has been seen in COVID-19 patients.

The research appears in Nature Communications.

Eradivir, a startup co-founded by Low, will commercialize the technology. The therapy technologies are licensed through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialization.

Source: Purdue University