Japanese pharmaceutical company Shionogi has reportedly developed a drug that can kill the flu virus in one day, speeding up patients’ recovery process and reducing the threat of contagion.
The drug, baloxavir marboxil, was co-developed by Swiss pharma firm Roche and has gained preliminary approval in Japan. Baloxavir comes in a pill form and is taken orally, working to target both the A and B types of the influenza virus. It was approved by a Japanese government health ministry panel in early February, with the expectation of its imminent sale.
There are plans to file for regulatory review in the US and Europe, with hopes that the drug will become available in the US before next winter. Roche will hold the rights to distribute baloxavir internationally.
Clinical trials found that a single dose of Baloxavir killed the virus within 24 hours. This is three times faster than the rate of Roche’s current flu medication Tamiflu (oseltamivir), which has a treatment course of ten doses over five days.
“The advantage is that it’s one pill once, versus a course of therapy, so particularly for pandemic planning, this could be an advantage,” Roche Pharmaceuticals CEO Daniel O’Day told Bloomberg. “You don’t have the potential resistance that comes with not completing your course of therapy.”
Tamiflu is a neuraminidase inhibitor, similar to GlaxoSmithKline’s Relenza, BioCryst Pharmaceuticals’ Rapivab and Daiichi Sankyo’s Inavir. These all block a protein the flu virus uses to reproduce itself in infected cells. By contrast, baloxavir was developed using discoveries made in HIV medications, which target a different type of enzyme, protecting cells from initial infection through decreasing their vulnerability to the virus.
The new treatment is a potentially groundbreaking step in treating influenza, which is currently seeing a severe outbreak in the US and UK. As many as 650,000 people die worldwide during the influenza virus’s seasonal form, and millions could die from it in the instance of a severe pandemic.
Treatment for the virus is a growing sector. In December 2017, Acute Market Reports predicted that the global influenza therapeutics market would increase from $600 million in 2016 to $1.2 billion by 2025.