Researchers at Erimos Pharmaceuticals and North Carolina State University (NCSU) now believe they have stumbled on a possible new treatment for the deadly virus during research on Erimos's lead drug compound, EM-1421, for malignant tumours.
The race is on to find a cure for the deadly bird flu virus as it continues to creep across the globe. Over the past two years the virus has spread from South East Asia right through to Scotland.
Although the virus does not pass from person to person easily, it has killed 100 people in its path already and experts fear it may soon mutate into a form that could be passed on among humans, causing a flu pandemic. The UK Department of Health estimates that if a pandemic reaches Britain there could be 600,000 deaths if the virus was not contained, and 50,000 if the virus was contained.
Roche's Tamiflu reduces the severity and spread of traditional flu and is currently the most effective antiviral drug available for countering a bird flu pandemic, however, there is a global shortage of the drug as Roche cannot keep up with worldwide demand.
Upon realising that the systems that bird flu require are common with the systems that they have already been studying for EM-1421, Erimos and NCSU have now filed a joint patent to further investigate the drug in this potential new application.
"We're certainly excited that this compound offers multiple potential uses for the future treatment of diseases," said Jonathan Heller, vice president of research operations with Erimos Pharmaceuticals.
"While our commitment remains focused on developing this drug for the treatment of cancer, we are pleased that EM-1421 may become an effective therapy for treating infectious diseases like influenza."
The new research will evaluate an essential scientific mechanism of action of EM-1421 - its ability to modify the body's extreme immune responses noted to cause lung damage and death in influenza, said the company.
Research on the drug's activity against bird flu will be conducted outside the US due to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations forbidding bird flu research in the US, however, studies on the drug against other, less-deadly flu strains will be done at NCSU's facility in North Carolina.
If the research is successful the drug could be fast-tracked by the FDA and approved for the market within the next six to 12 months.