New Drug Inspired by Ibuprofen Protects Against Flu

By Breanna Draxler | April 10, 2014 12:05 pm

A cutaway illustration of the flu virus. CDC

The flu is our modern scourge—new strains of the H1N1 virus are constantly emerging and threatening to reach pandemic proportions. But a new study has found that a novel kind of drug, given to mice before exposure to the flu, reduces their level of infection and makes them much more likely to survive.

Flu vaccines are fairly effective, but they are strain-specific and so must be revised every year. At the moment only two broad antiviral flu medicines are effective to prevent and treat most kinds of flu—Tamiflu and Relenza. But there’s evidence that the H1N1 virus might be developing resistance to them.

Signs of the Flu

The new drug takes inspiration from pills in your standard medicine cabinet. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen are often used to deal with symptoms of the flu, and researchers won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1982 when they determined what was happening with these anti-inflammatory drugs on a molecular level.

When someone gets infected with the flu, they get a spike in their levels of immune molecules called prostaglandins. These molecules boost the replication of the virus and lead to symptoms of pain and fever. Taking an anti-inflammatory drug blocks the production of prostaglandins.

The trouble is that anti-inflammatory drugs block the production of all kinds of prostaglandins, not just those associated with the flu response.

Targeted Treatment

The key to this study was that researchers were able to isolate just one: prostaglandin E2 or PGE2, which they found to be most directly connected to the flu. Researchers gave mice drugs to block PGE2 production, and then gave them a lethal dose of H1N1 virus. Twelve days later, the mice had lower levels of the virus in their lungs, showed better immune responses, and were more likely to survive the flu when compared to the control mice.

The results, published in the journal Immunity today, suggest that targeting the PGE2 molecule specifically will lead to more effective protection against the flu. Plus the drugs to block PGE2 already exist, so researchers say they shouldn’t be too far from clinical trials.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • Peter

    Have I got this right? This new drug interferes with the way in which the influenza virus causes symptoms/disease. So it reduces the impact of the infection on the person with flu.

    It is not an antiviral drug per se, so it doesn’t prevent infection.

    The pretended rationale for the widespread use of neuraminidase inhibitors in the UK, even when too late to help the individual with illness, in the 2009, was that the antivirals were thought to reduce the duration and quantity of viral shedding, and thus the infectiousness of people with the disease. It was an effort to reduce the spread of the disease.

    It would seem unlikely that these new drugs would have this effect – if I’ve understood them correctly.

    This doesn’t mean that the new drugs wouldn’t have a very beneficial effect in reducing symptoms and possibly mortality; but they might have less of a public health benefit.

  • Helen Yeh

    It said that the PGE2 level will be elevated when someone get infected with flu (any strains). And PGE2 boost the replication of the virus. Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) block the production of PGE2. That means without the push of PGE2, the virus cannot replicate themselves effectively and their numbers in the body will be reduced.
    Since there’s evidence that the H1N1 might developing resistance to Tamiflu and Relenza, if blocking the PGE2 production by ibuprofen or other NSAIDs could really stop the replication of the virus, it will also reduce the spread of the disease. It’s a great news for the treatment of flu by an old drug.


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