If the virus does prove to be sensitive to amantadine, this could overcome potential shortages of Tamiflu and Relenza on which many countries have pinned their hopes of combating a possible pandemic.
Henry Niman founder of US biotechnology company Recombinomics says preliminary sequence data suggest that the Russian virus does not exhibit any of the changes in the M2 ion channel that would make it resistant to amantadine. Early work on the Russian virus also suggests that it is related to the Qinghai virus. Yi Guan of the University of Hong Kong who sequenced the Qinghai strain earlier this year says Qinghai sequence data suggest it is amantadine sensitive. \'It is possible that recent Russian isolates may be sensitive to amantadine as well. Based on my personal observation, it is possible that they are closely related in somehow. Considering the cost of antiviral (Tamiflu), it is another option for developing countries to consider stockpiling amantadine,\' he says. But the drug is off-patent so no one is testing it.
Niman also says countries should be stockpiling amantadine or rimantadine as \'they are cheap and readily available.\' Peter Dunnill, Department of Biochemical Engineering at University College London says stockpiling Tamiflu may not be the right route in developing countries.
The US and Sweden has bought amantadine, but there are no plans for the UK Department of Health to buy any. The UK Tamiflu order, which will cover only a fraction of the population, will not be filled until 2007.
There may be concerns about using amantadine, however, as over-use of the drug in animals has led to the emergence of wide-spread resistance of H5N1 in Thailand and Vietnam. But resistance can also develop to Tamiflu.
SOURCE: Chemistry & Industry
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Chemistry & Industry, issue 17, cover date September 5th 2005
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