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Gene silencing technology to be used in war against bird flu

Published on 23/02/06 at 12:46pm

Cutting edge technology will be used develop new drugs to treat dangerous strains of influenza, including the threat of a bird flu pandemic.

Swiss pharma giant Novartis is to team up with US-based Alnylam, which specialises in RNA interference (RNAi), a natural process that selectively silences and regulates specific genes.

Since many diseases are caused by unwanted activity of certain genes, drugs that could silence genes selectively through RNAi could have massive potential across a number of diseases.

Alnylam is aiming to chemically synthesize small interfering RNAs, or siRNAs, which are double-stranded RNAs that target specific disease-associated genes.

Novartis and Alnylam say the technology is particularly well-suited to treating new strains of influenza, because it allows treatments to be adapted to target new strains of influenza such as H5N1 bird flu, which emerge, jump from species to species and mutate unpredictably.

Mark Fishman, head of Novartis' Institutes for BioMedical Research said: "An RNAi therapeutic could be an innovative modality, crippling the virus through incapacitating several genes. In addition, such drugs might be adapted to new strains as they emerge.

"Of course the technology is young and is just now being tested in early clinical trials, but our hope is that it will open new therapeutic frontiers."

Alnylam announced it would take its pandemic flu further last December, and has already secured special funding for the project from the US government.

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Friday , February 10, 2006


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