The 1918 Spanish flu killed up to 40 million people. The swine flu pandemic in 2009 killed an estimated 284,000. Now, scientists have discovered a substance that could help doctors save lives during future influenza pandemics. Eritoran, a compound under investigation as a sepsis drug, dramatically reduces deaths from influenza in mice.
At the moment, doctors have only one class of compounds available to combat influenza. The drugs, Tamiflu and Relenza, block neuraminidase, a surface protein that influenza viruses need to leave the cell after reproduction. The drugs, taken orally, have to be given soon after infection to be effective, however, and some flu strains have developed resistance against them. A few scientists have also questioned the safety and efficacy of the compounds, which many countries stockpiled during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Instead of targeting the virus, immunologist Stefanie Vogel at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, tried to interfere with the host immune system.