Experimental Drug That Kills The Flu In 24 Hours May Come To U.S. Next Year

Amid the worst flu-season in nearly a decade, a Japanese drugmaker is hard at work conducting late stage trials on a pill that they say can kill the flu virus within a day - a third of the time it takes Roche AG's Tamiflu.

Both drugs take roughly the same amount of time to completely contain flu symptoms, but Shionogi says its treatment provides immediately relief much faster. Considering that the U.S. has been hit by one of the worst flu epidemics in years, with the most intense rates of transmission since 2009, the Japanese company's treatment can't come quickly enough.

The experimental treatment developed by the 140-year-old Osaka-based drugmaker requires a single dose, as opposed to two daily doses of Tamiflu for five days. If the drug is as fast as the company claims, it could mean the difference between life and death for at-risk flu sufferers while cutting down the window of active transmission for contagion.

A spokesman for Roche - which holds the international license to distribute the experimental drug, said the Shionogi treatment had proven "significantly faster" at killing the flu, more conveniently, and that the compound offered "improved tolerability" vs. Tamiflu.

The drug was developed as an offshoot of a blockbuster anti-HIV drug, working to block the flu virus from hijacking a cell's internal mechanism, according to Chief Executive Isao Teshirogi.

"The data that we’ve seen looks very promising,” said Martin Howell Friede, who heads up the World Health Organization’s advisory on vaccines. “This could be a breakthrough in the way that we treat influenza.”

Shionogi said Japan’s drug regulator is fast-tracking its approval and could approve it for use in Japan as early as March. The regulator declined to comment. Roche and Shionogi say they will apply for U.S. approval this summer and Shionogi doesn’t expect a decision until next year.

Other players including Johnson & Johnson , AstraZeneca PLC and a startup backed by Merck & Co. are testing new compounds to treat influenza A, the most common flu strain. Shionogi’s candidate is furthest along and it says the compound can also treat B strains that infect humans too. -WSJ

Existing drugs allow the flu virus to hijack cells, while working to block the viral material from escaping to infect other cells. This method simply slows down the virus, giving the body's immune system a giant assist. Shionogi's treatment - which has been in research and development for over a decade. 

After developing an anti-HIV drug in partnership with Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline which blocks a "metallic enzyme" used by the virus to hijack human cells, Shionogi scientists tailored the same technique to the flu virus. 

“So we said, ‘why don’t we build on our HIV knowledge to find a way to treat the flu?’ And we did,” according to lead developer Takeki Uehara.