Common flu treatment might be key to slowing pandemic, says UT researcher

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – New research out of the University of Texas into the effectiveness of antivirals sheds new light on the effectiveness of these drugs for reducing the spread of viruses. The research modeled how the antiviral, Baloxavir, commonly known as Xofluza, could reduce transmission of the flu virus. Using the model, researchers found that more than 6,000 deaths could have been prevented in the 2017-18 flu season if 30% of the infected had been given Baloxavir within the first 48 hours of infection. Researchers are pointing to the model as a sign of effectiveness antivirals could have in fighting COVID-19.

According to retired University of Texas professor Robert Krug, the mass production of antivirals is more doable than the mass production of a vaccine. Krug, who performed the research that led to the development of Baloxavir four decades ago, says Baloxavir works by preventing the viruses from reproducing. “If you administer Baloxavir within one day, the virus is essentially gone,” Krug says. “What it does is reduce the period of time the person is contagious.”

“What you’d like is a similar drug for CoVid-19.” Krug says. He says the development of an antiviral takes time, but that there is an interest and a desire for an antiviral.

Krug says he and other researchers are now looking at FDA-approved antivirals that are currently in use and if they could be used to fight COVID-19. He says that they have isolated one compound that may lead to a COVID-19 antiviral, but more tests are needed first.

Krug says one advantage of looking at drugs already approved by the FDA is that rigorous testing isn’t required. This could mean these antivirals could be on the market sooner.

Antivirals vs Vaccines

“Everybody has this mindset and they’re fixating on getting a vaccine,” Krug says. “Getting a vaccine is a great idea. But it’s not going to be easy.” Krug says the advantage antivirals have over a vaccine is that they are easier to make and will be quicker to develop.

The vaccines currently being researched are focused on attacking the spikes that make up the crown of the coronavirus. These spikes are what allow the virus to attach to human cells. Krug says that creating a vaccine that attacks just these spikes is ineffective.

“I think they should put more emphasis on these antivirals,” Krug says. “Because they’re faster. We know all the techniques. It’s being done all the time.”

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