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As flu season begins, Rutgers scientists are developing new anti-flu drug

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- (NJBIZ file)

As officials confirmed the state's first case of the flu this week, scientists at Rutgers University announced that they have identified chemical agents that, in the lab, successfully blocked the replication of flu viruses. They are now moving on to the next stage in the development of a new oral anti-flu drug.

"We're at a key proof of principle stage right now," said Eddy Arnold, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Rutgers and one of the scientists working on the new drug. "It's not trivial to go from this point to actually delivering a drug, but we're optimistic. This class of inhibitors has all the right characteristics."

Right now, Tamiflu is the only oral anti-flu drug, Arnold said. But he and fellow scientists at Rutgers and at the University of Rochester are collaborating to create competition. By synthesizing chemical compounds that bind to metal ions in a viral enzyme, the researchers found they could halt that enzyme's ability to activate a key step in the virus's replication process.

To develop the new flu drug, Rutgers scientists founded Prodaptics Pharmaceuticals two years ago and plan to raise funds through research grants and investors, said company co-founder Joseph Bauman of Rutgers. He said the next stage is testing the compound in mice. Some of that work will be done at the University of Rochester and could take one to two years.

"By taking advantage of collaborations we're able to move much faster," Bauman said. "We hope to have (a drug) ready to begin clinical trials in three years."

He added that the company could potentially have a new flu drug on the market in six to eight years.

Bauman said once a new flu drug is ready for commercialization, "it could either be sold by the company (Prodaptics) or through licensing and marketing agreements with a larger company."

"It is early, but we are starting to talk to various pharmaceutical companies," he said.

The researchers have recently published their findings in the American Chemical Society journal "ACS Chemical Biology."

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald

Beth Fitzgerald reports on health care, small business and higher education. She joined NJBIZ in 2008 after a 34-year career at the Star-Ledger and has been reporting on business in New Jersey since 1978. Her email is beth@njbiz.com and she is @bethfitzgerald8 on Twitter.

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