Relenza (Zanamivir) Pharmocology

Zanamivir is the pharmaceutically active component of the antiviral medication Relenza. This drug stops the replication of the influenza virus and can lead to a shorter duration of symptoms if taken shortly after the infection presents.

Neuraminidase Inhibitors: Mechanism of Action

Pathophysiology of influenza virus

Influenza is caused by a viral infection of the respiratory tract. Once inside the host cell, the influenza virus replicates rapidly and spreads throughout the cell.  After a short time, typically around one hour, the host cell is exhausted of its resources and is destroyed by the virus, which then goes on to find another host cell to continue the replication process.

As a result of the replication of the influenza virus, cells in the respiratory tract become swollen and inflamed, thus leading to many of the common symptoms associated with the flu. These effects occur in varying severity according to the immune function of the individual and the extent of the influenza infection. In some people, complications of the flu can be particularly severe and may even be fatal.

Pharmacology of zanamivir

Zanamivir is a neuraminidase inhibitor, which is beneficial in the treatment and prophylaxis of both influenza A and influenza B viruses.

The mechanism of action of this drug is by binding to the active site of the neuraminidase protein. The activation of this protein is essential for the influenza virus to escape the host cell prior to its death to invade a subsequent host cell. The antagonistic effect of zanamivir blocks the neuraminidase protein and inhibits the ability of the virus to move on and affect other cells.

As a result of this effect, the infection is unable to progress and it is halted by the zanamivir. This causes the symptoms that often present with the viral infection to last for less time. Furthermore, certain studies have found that taking this medication soon after the onset of symptoms can successfully reduce the duration of the infection by approximately half a day.

Administration of zanamivir

Zanamivir is formulated into a powder that is designed for inhalation, which provides direct access to the respiratory tract where the influenza virus usually resides. This is particularly useful as the bioavailability of the drug is only 2%, whereas only about 15% of the drug is absorbed and excreted in the urine when inhaled.

The oral inhalation can lead to specific side effects that relate to this method of administration. For example, the risk of bronchospasm in patients with co-existing respiratory conditions like asthma is much higher than an orally administered medication of the same drug class.

Drug interactions and side effects

Zanamivir has a low potential to interact with other substances administered at the same time for several reasons. One of the prominent explanations is its low volume of distribution and greater local effect on the respiratory tract which, taken together, reduce possible drug interactions in the systemic circulation.

From a theoretical perspective, there is no drug interaction that is expected to occur. Notably, this observation has been confirmed through in vivo studies. Additionally, the effect of zanamivir remains unaltered, regardless of other drugs administered simultaneously.

If zanamivir needs to be taken in conjunction with other inhaled medications, the other medication should be taken first, followed by the administration of zanamivir.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Yolanda Smith

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Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.

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