Scientists on Sunday unveiled lab-made human antibodies that can disable several types of influenza, including highly-lethal H5N1 bird flu and the “Spanish Flu” strain that killed tens of millions in 1918.
Tested in mice, the antibodies work by binding to a previously obscure structure in the flu virus which, when blocked, sabotages the pathogen’s ability to enter the cell it is trying to infect, according to the study.
Because this structure — described by one scientist as a “viral Achilles’ heel” — is genetically stable and has resisted mutation over time, the antibodies are effective against many different strains.
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The breakthrough “holds considerable promise for further development into a medical tool to treat and prevent seasonal as well as pandemic influenza,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which helped fund the study.
Clinical trials on humans could begin within a couple of years, the researchers said.
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Seasonal flu kills more than 250,000 people every year, and pandemic flu, which occurs with the emergence of deadly viral strains against which people lack immunity, remains an ever-present threat.