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Technique helps build anti-viral drugs faster

May 13, 2010

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SFU chemist Andy Bennet and his PhD student Jeff Chan have developed a technique that will accelerate the creation of stronger anti-viral drugs, in anticipation of another influenza pandemic like the one that killed 100 million people in 1918.

Using a powerful nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometer, Bennet and Chan are speeding up the scientific search for molecules that disrupt the chemical workings of an enzyme that helps flu viruses to spread.

Their findings were published online April 25 in the journal Nature Chemical Biology.

Neuraminidase—the "N" in the H1N1 influenza virus—is an enzyme that sticks out like spikes on the surface of many flu viruses. By cutting through a sugary molecule called sialic acid that clumps viruses together after they emerge from infected cells, neuraminidase helps to spread infection.

Bennet and Chan use a powerful spectrometer to detect differences in molecular vibrations, which enables them to create a blueprint for drug molecules that block viral neuraminidase and slow the spread of the flu virus.

If the virus mutates, it takes only two weeks to analyze its drug resistance and then create more effective pharmaceuticals.

"If you give a person a cocktail of two or three anti-viral drugs, then the virus would have to mutate two or three times before it would be fully resistant," explains Bennet.

Bennet and Chan received research grants from the Western Economic Diversification Fund, Canada Foundation for Innovation and the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund.

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