£1.6 million not to be sneezed at

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Scientists at the University of St Andrews hope to develop new drugs for the prevention and treatment of influenza, thanks to £1.6 million funding from the Medical Research Council.

Influenza, or ‘flu’, is a highly contagious acute viral infection that affects people of all ages. While most people recover without complications in 1-2 weeks, flu can cause serious illness and death, especially in the very young and the elderly.

In recent years two drugs have been used to treat influenza, but already many circulating strains of the virus have developed resistance to at least one of these. New vaccines take a long time to develop, while influenza continues to spread and evolve. Influenza continues to be a global health threat as witnessed by the pandemic swine flu that rapidly spread across the world last year. The need is urgent to find new ways of stopping this dangerous virus.

At the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex in St Andrews, whose new annex is currently under construction, scientists are already taking on the challenge. The funding announced today will help drive forward two important areas of work.

The first is the work of Dr Rupert Russell and Professor Rick Randall who are working to understand how the virus is able to multiply and evade the immune system by interfering with normal cellular mechanisms.

Dr Russell said:

“The MRC funding will allow us to address important questions concerning the function and structure of an essential viral virulence factor.”

The second is the work of Professor Garry Taylor and Dr Helen Connaris who have already engineered new proteins designed to mask the sugar molecules in the respiratory tract that viruses such as the influenza virus need to bind to in order to cause an infection. The MRC funding will allow them to continue to develop this innovative approach.

Professor Taylor said:

“Our approach should overcome resistance associated with drugs that target the virus. The MRC funding will allow us to explore the effectiveness of this approach and to translate our basic research into a new drug that will hopefully enter the clinic.”

Notes to News Editors

The University of St Andrews is positioning itself at the forefront of the battle against the deadly diseases with a state-of-the-art facility designed to promote multi-disciplinary research.

The new annex of the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex will help develop the knowledge to underpin new strategies to defeat superbugs, and will go even further – investigating sleeping sickness, HIV, tuberculosis and bird flu while also expanding on current work at St Andrews on the understanding of diseases such as cancer, flu and the rare genetic condition XP (xeroderma pigmentosum), whose sufferers are known as ‘children of the moon’.

The new £15 million facility has been made possible through a £5 million capital award from the Wellcome Trust. Construction is now underway.

Dr Rupert Russell is available for interview on 01334 462 595 or email [email protected]

Professor Garry Taylor is available for interview on 01334 467 301 or email [email protected]

Issued by the University of St Andrews

Contact: Emma Shea, Communications Manager, on 01334 462 109 or email [email protected]

Category Research

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