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New FDA-Approved Flu Drug Has Roots in Texas

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As you’re no doubt aware, last year’s flu season was particularly bad, with more than 11,000 related deaths statewide, including a record 180 children.

The 2018-19 season has started already, and health officials have reasons to believe this year likely won’t be as deadly.

For instance, the nasal spray vaccine FluMist is again an option, which should make it easier to vaccinate young children. Also, this year’s vaccine is expected to improve protection against two strains that were not well matched in last year’s vaccine.

So it was welcome news yesterday when word came out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) as another tool for treating acute uncomplicated influenza in people 12 years and older.

You might have already heard about the drug, which has garnered a lot of media attention because of how effective it is in reducing flu symptoms.

"This is the first new antiviral flu treatment with a novel mechanism of action approved by the FDA in nearly 20 years. With thousands of people getting the flu every year, and many people becoming seriously ill, having safe and effective treatment alternatives is critical. This novel drug provides an important, additional treatment option," FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said in a news release.

But what you might not know is that the science behind what makes it work has roots right here in Texas, particularly The University of Texas at Austin (UT).

According to Medscape Medical News, “baloxavir marboxil prevents replication by inhibiting cap-dependent endonuclease activity of the viral polymerase.”

This is different from “neuraminidase inhibitors, such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu, Genentech), which inhibit the action of neuraminidase (an enzyme that frees viruses from the infected cells' surface),” Medscape said.

For those of you who’ve forgotten the gritty details of viral replication and dispersal, check out this article on UT’s College of Natural Sciences website

“Existing flu treatments, such as Tamiflu, attack the virus after it has replicated in host cells; they work by making it harder for daughter viruses to escape from the host cell. The new drug Xofluza, on the other hand, attacks the flu virus (by) blocking flu before it is able to create daughter viruses.”

You see, UT molecular biologist Robert Krug, PhD, and his team figured out years ago that the flu “grabs an early-stage messenger RNA in the host cell, cuts off a piece of the host cell messenger RNA including the cap and sticks it onto its own RNA strand to make a viral messenger RNA that looks like ones that the host cell makes.”

They called this process “cap-snatching” and began to wonder if a drug could be made that disrupts this early step in viral replication.

Years later, researchers in France and Japan put the missing links together, and another weapon in the fight against flu was born.

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