Old drug, new trick: Researchers find combining antiviral drugs and antibody therapy could treat seasonal flu and help prevent next flu pandemic

Researchers at McMaster University have found a class of well-known antiviral drugs could be part of a one-two punch to treat seasonal influenza and prevent a flu pandemic when used in combination with antibody therapies.

Antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu have been prescribed for decades to treat flu symptoms in people at risk for serious complications.

Researchers found when these medications were used with antibody therapy, the combination was more effective than either approach alone: the antibodies were significantly more efficient at killing infected cells and the drugs were more potent.

The findings, published today in the journal Cell Reports Medicine, could inform new approaches to protecting high-risk groups, including the elderly and children during an emerging influenza pandemic, the researchers say.

“Antibody therapies were used to treat COVID-19, and in theory they could be used to treat flu as a new therapeutic approach,” says Matthew Miller, a lead author of the study and director of McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research.

“We really need to have better strategies to protect people from flu pandemics because right now we don’t have anything,” he says. “Our seasonal vaccines don’t protect us. And we’ve learned that we can’t make them quickly enough to vaccinate everybody if a new pandemic were to emerge.”

Miller and his team have studied broadly neutralizing antibodies — which fend off a wide range of respiratory viruses — for over 10 years. They are examining how these antibodies could be tapped to protect against all strains of flu, in their urgent pursuit of a universal flu vaccine.

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