Australia-UK teams join to fight flu
In a joint application to the British Medical Research Council (MRC), Dr Jennifer McKimm-Breschkin of CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering and Dr Andrew Watts of the University of Bath will share equally in a £408,000 (A$ 1M) grant over three years to tackle pandemic flu. Dr McKimm-Breschkin is an expert in testing inhibitors of flu and evaluating drug resistance. Dr Watts brings his medicinal chemistry expertise to the collaboration and will work on the design of new drug molecules.
The Australian team was the only international applicant awarded funds in this round of MRC grants. Dr McKimm-Breschkin says: “This is an exciting collaboration because the Australian and British research teams both have so much to bring to this project and our skills are perfectly complementary.”
The MRC have funded 10 different projects, all researching pandemic flu but approaching it from different angles. Other groups are looking at issues such as how flu viruses infect different hosts or trying to better understand the human immune response to flu. The Australian-UK team is the only one looking at developing new drugs to fight the disease.
The research will focus on trying to develop an improved class of anti-virals for the treatment of influenza viruses, including the highly pathogenic avian H5N1 (Bird Flu) influenza virus. The aim is to develop a drug which is able to be administered orally and avoids drug-induced resistance in the virus – which has already been observed in some Tamiflu-treated patients infected with the H5N1 virus.
Dr McKimm-Breschkin is optimistic about the new project. “We are aiming to produce a likely drug candidate within the three-year period. However, given the long period of time it takes to properly trial and evaluate a new anti-viral drug, it could be up to 15 years before we see the resulting treatment on the shelves.”
CSIRO was instrumental in developing the world’s first anti-flu drug effective against all strains of flu. Dr McKimm-Breschkin was a part of the team that developed Relenza™ which remains one of only two drugs considered effective treatments against avian influenza.
Dr Watts is pleased to be working with CSIRO on this global problem. “We are really excited about this collaboration. The CSIRO and Dr McKimm-Breschkin will bring a level of expertise and experience to this project that is not available to us here in the UK and which will be essential for the success of the project.”
Influenza is a major cause of human illness and death and is responsible for considerable economic loss. Ongoing mutation of the virus and the time required to produce vaccines make it difficult to provide annual protection against epidemic influenza, whilst the ability of influenza viruses to cross species, particularly birds, means there is an ever present threat of a new pandemic, such as occurred in 1918, 1957 and 1968.
The recent emergence of highly pathogenic avian H5N1 viruses circulating in Asia and now the EU and Africa has increased concerns for adaptation of this strain to humans and poses the next pandemic threat. Funds from this grant will be used to employ scientists at both the Bath and Melbourne laboratories to join a worldwide effort to protect us against the threat of pandemic influenza.
- The Australian team was the only international applicant awarded funds in this round of MRC grants
- The MRC have funded 10 different projects, all researching pandemic flu but approaching it from different angles
- The research will focus on trying to develop an improved class of anti-virals for the treatment of influenza viruses