Influenza, mainly known as the “flu”, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. The flu virus usually flourishes during the winter season affecting many people who are not protected. Every year, there is a new virus strain and every year individuals are recommended to vaccinate themselves and their families against the newest strain. However, this flu season has been one of the worst in recent years with some cases being fatal.
As described in the video above, the severity of the flu is due to a strain associated with high hospitalizations; the H3N2 strain. According to a scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, Dr. Amesh Adalja told Live Science that, "This year is particularly bad because it's dominated by the H3N2 [flu strain], which tends to be more severe and causes more severe symptoms than other strains of flu.” In fact, research published in 2016 found that over an 11-year analysis, H3N2 viruses were so severe that even vaccinations were only 33% effective in comparison to other common viral strains.
Now, a pharmaceutical company, Shinogi, in Japan has developed an experimental drug that may kill the flu virus in as little as 24 hours. It is believed that this drug is not only safe and effective but in the midst of one of the worst flu seasons of recent years, it may be the only option after vaccinations. This experimental drug, baloxavir marboxil, was shown to eradicate the flu virus in just one day making it more effective than a recent flu-killing drug oseltamivir, which can kill the flu in 72 hours.
Although both drugs eradicated flu symptoms, baloxavir marboxil provides a more effective relief of the influenza in a shorter period of time. Why so? Well, oseltamivir (marketed as Tamiflu) works as neuraminidase inhibitor preventing the virus from reproducing and affecting more cells.
However, with baloxavir marboxil, which is a cap-dependent endonuclease inhibitor, it initiates its biological mechanism on a different enzyme by preventing cells from being vulnerable to a virus infection. Additionally, the single-dose delivery of baloxavir marboxil is more convenient than the longer dose regimen of oseltamivir. The experimental drug is also advantageous in targeting A and B influenza types. Furthermore, studies on baloxavir marboxil demonstrated its anti-viral spectrum against not only seasonal influenza strains but also oseltamivir-resistant flu strains and avian flu strains, of which potential outbreak is a global public health concern.
With such positivity, the Japanese government has granted permission for the manufacturing of baloxavir marboxil and it may be on sale this May. The drug will be marketed as Xofluza. Although it hasn’t been confirmed if Xofluza will be manufactured in the US and internationally, if approved it will most likely be by Shinogi and in partnership with Tamiflu maker Roche for US and international distribution. Regardless if Xofluza becomes approved or not in the US, healthcare professionals still recommend vaccinations as the best option for protection against the flu.