Will a universal flu drug be available in pharmacies in a few years? Scientists from the Polish start-up TherVira are working on one. They designed it using their own computer model, and in a cell-based study they confirmed that it eradicates influenza virus, even when it has already attacked the body.
“Currently available drugs can only block the entrance of the virus (the infection) and the exit of proliferated copies of the virus from the cell. However, none of them can eliminate the virus from the cell. We have developed such a drug with software we had prepared earlier” – told PAP Katarzyna Kamińska from the International Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Warsaw.
Work on a computer model for designing drugs of various kinds started several years ago. “The outcome is a software that allows to search for chemical compounds active against selected targets, such as the parts of cells that are involved in the development of a particular disease” – explained Kamińska.
She used the software to find compounds that can block the activity of influenza virus: proliferation in the cell and development. This would allow to cure the patient at any stage of the disease. “At the moment this is not possible. Current drugs can stop the virus before it enters and prevent it from leaving the cell, but they can not fight the virus that is already in the cell” – she emphasised.
When scientists from the University of Gdansk confirmed her results in December 2015, she decided to set up a start-up company – TherVira. Now she develops the project together with four other young scientists.
According to Kamińska, the drug that her team is working on will be effective against different strains of the virus. “We are trying to block the activity of one particular element in the structure of the virus. Due to the very important function of this element, it is not subject to rapid change. We target this invariable element with our compounds” – emphasised Kamińska.
Researchers tested the action of the compounds on human cells in a lab. “We verified that safely for human cells and effectively we can kill the virus, restoring the cell’s health. First, the virus infects a cell, which becomes ill when the virus quickly multiplies. Then we add our compound” – described the researcher.
The work of scientists showed that the addition of the compound the virus begins to disappear, and the cell is functioning normally. “It proves that we do not affect the function and activity of the cell itself. The main goal is that the drug should be safe for the cells and the human body. So we have ready and experimentally tested compounds” – said Katarzyna Kamińska.
In the next steps, the researchers want to improve the compounds so that the new drug is as effective as possible and well tolerated by the human body. “Then we will enter the phase of preclinical studies. At the stage of clinical trials – if it comes to that – we will need to cooperate with a very large pharmaceutical company” – noted the researcher. She emphasised that marketing a drug is usually a job for years. The most optimistic scenario for development and implementation of a new drug is on average of about 10 years, but it usually takes longer.

PAP – Science and Scholarship in Poland