Nastech Pharmaceutical Company has received a new $1.9m (€1.5m) research grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to further develop its RNAi therapeutics to fight and prevent bird-flu.
This windfall comes only a month after Nastech received a $400,000 Phase I research grant, also from the NIH, bringing the total awarded to Nastech by the organisation to $2.3m.
The US-based pharma company said the latest grant will allow it to conduct further research in order to design and optimise small-interfering RNA (siRNA) therapeutics against seasonal and avian influenza viruses, testing in vivo activity of new siRNA delivery agents, as well as evaluating viral drug resistance mechanisms.
"The success we have had in obtaining significant NIH funding for advancement of our siRNA therapeutic programme targeting influenza is credit to our strong scientific and development capabilities in this exciting new field," said Steven Quay, chairman, president and CEO of Nastech.
Indeed, siRNA therapeutics is an emerging field that could reach $185m by 2008, according to Front Line Strategic Consulting.
The potential advantage of RNAi antiviral therapeutics is that siRNA can be targeted against the conserved region of the viral genome, meaning that an RNAi therapeutic would be effective against all strains of a virus, whether new or old.
Using this method, Nastech is developing siRNA therapeutics that specifically target conserved regions of the influenza viral genome.
Nastech's siRNA approach involves targeting one or more proteins critical for viral replication. By turning off the production of such proteins, the spread of infection is prevented or slowed.
New and effective treatments are urgently needed for influenza, which infects approximately 5-15 per cent of the population in a typical year, resulting in 250,000 to 500,000 deaths according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Furthermore, the ever-looming threat of a bird flu pandemic remains a major concern.Currently used prevention methods, like vaccines, have two key drawbacks. First, they are developed against individual known strains of flu and therefore may not be effective against new flu strains.
Secondly, vaccines are produced using an extensive process requiring incubation in chicken eggs, thus vaccine against a new flu strain could take months or years to stockpile.
Furthermore, antiviral medications currently approved to treat influenza, such as Roche's widely publicised Tamiflu, have the potential disadvantage of influenza virus strains becoming resistant to one or more of these medications.