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Roche licenses new flu-fighting technology

Washington, February 9, 2010

Roche AG's Genentech unit has licensed an experimental new technology that uses antibodies to fight influenza, including H1N1 swine flu, Harvard's Dana Farber Cancer Institute said.

Dana-Farber said it and the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute had signed a license agreement with Genentech, giving the company exclusive rights to manufacture, develop and market human monoclonal antibodies to treat and protect against group 1 influenza viruses.

Dr Wayne Marasco at Dana-Farber, Robert Liddington at Sanford-Burnham and Ruben Donis of the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention discovered the antibody technology and reported on it a year ago this month.

The antibodies -- immune system proteins that attach to invaders such as viruses -- can be used as direct treatment for flu. They also might be used to protect front-line workers and others at high risk during pandemics.   

In studies, the antibodies -- generated from the blood of 57 volunteers -- neutralised a wide range of influenza viruses.

Influenza viruses cloak themselves in lollipop-shaped proteins called hemagglutinin and neuraminidase, which mutate regularly and give influenza A strains the "H" and "N" designations in their names.

Vaccines target hemagglutinin, while drugs called neuraminidase inhibitors, including Roche's Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza, attack neuraminidase.   

Because of virus mutations, vaccines have to be reformulated every year, and the viruses can develop resistance to the neuraminidase inhibitors, as they have to older antivirals.

The antibodies attach to a less mutation-prone part of the virus, on the "stick" part of the lollipop, the researchers said.
 The researchers used the natural antibodies as the basis for lab-engineered versions, called human monoclonal antibodies.   

Marasco has said it should be straightforward to develop the antibodies as drugs, because they are already used broadly in cancer therapy.

Cancer monoclonal antibodies can cost tens of thousands of dollars a year, but Marasco said companies have learned how to make them more cheaply recently. -Reuters




Tags: flu | Roche | Antibodies |

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