Nastech awarded grant for siRNA therapeutics for flu

By Wai Lang Chu

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Influenza

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
has awarded Nastech Pharmaceuticals a development grant for RNAi
therapeutics to prevent and treat influenza.

Influenza is still a major problem in some of the world and infects approximately 5-15 per cent of the population in a typical year, resulting in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The award will be used to further develop Nastech's small-interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics to prevent and treat influenza - an emerging field that could reach $185m (€144.3m) by 2008, according to Front Line Strategic Consulting.

The potential advantage of RNAi antiviral therapeutics is that siRNA can be targeted against the conserved region of the influenza virus. This means that an RNAi therapeutic would be effective against all strains of the influenza virus, whether new or old.

Nastech is developing siRNA therapeutics that specifically target conserved regions of the influenza viral genome.

By targeting these conserved regions, a siRNA therapeutic could be developed to be effective against current and future strains of the influenza virus.

The Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant will be used for the design and optimisation of siRNAs against seasonal and avian influenza viruses, testing in vivo​ activity of new siRNA delivery agents and evaluating viral drug resistance mechanisms.

"The NIH funds reflect the importance of this new approach to treat influenza and recognition of the strong results we have produced. To date, we have demonstrated the effectiveness of our siRNA therapeutics to broadly target and inhibit influenza, both in vitro and​ in vivo," said Steven Quay, Chairman, President and CEO of Nastech.

"We will continue to move this program forward in order to better meet the public's need for a safe and effective treatment against influenza infection,"​ he added.

Pandemic flu emerges from a sudden change in the influenza virus resulting in a new flu strain, for which there may be no immunity.

Vaccines currently represent the mainstay of flu prevention, but they have two key limitations.

First, they are developed against individual known strains of flu and therefore may not be effective against new flu strains.

Second, vaccines are produced using a lengthy process requiring incubation in chicken eggs, thus vaccine against a new flu strain could take months or years to stockpile.

Antiviral medications approved to treat influenza have the potential drawback of influenza virus strains becoming resistant to one or more of these medications.

Nastech's siRNA approach involves targeting one or more proteins critical for viral replication. By turning off the production of such proteins, the spread of infection is prevented or slowed.

Nastech's RNAi research and development programs seek to develop safe and effective therapeutics by identifying key protein targets, designing the siRNA that will turn off the production of the targeted proteins, and developing a formulation for the systemic delivery of this potential new class of therapeutics.

Related topics Clinical trials & development

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