What is Relenza?

Relenza is the trade name of the drug that contains zanamivir, which is a neuraminidase inhibitor and antiviral drug used in the treatment and prevention of influenza. Relenza is an orally inhaled drug, which allows for direct access to the respiratory system where the influenza virus usually resides and replicates.

Relenza 2008WM

Drug discovery and licensing

Relenza was discovered by Australian company Biota in 1989, which then sold licensing rights to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 1990. The drug was made available for public use in 1999 and was the first neuraminidase inhibitor licensed for public use, followed closely by a second drug oseltamivir, whose trade name is Tamiflu, a few months later.

Mechanism of action

Relenza works by binding to and blocking the active site to the neuraminidase protein of the host cell. Its role as a receptor antagonist inhibits the influenza virus from being able to escape the host cell when intracellular resources are depleted. As a result, the virus dies, along with the host cell, thereby eliminating the virus from replicating in other host cells.

Research has shown the Relenza is able to reduce the duration of symptoms of influenza, as well as reduce the incidence of influenza infection when taken as a preventative method. There are no quality studies, however, to support the claim that Relenza helps to reduce complications of influenza, like pneumonia.

In contrast to other neuraminidase inhibitors such as Tamiflu, there have been no strains of influenza to date that have shown signs of resistance to Relenza. This is a significant benefit, as the drug appears to remain useful across a broad spectrum of influenza viruses and has the potential to help many individuals with symptoms of the flu.

Administration of dose

Relenza is administered via oral inhalation and each package includes a Diskhaler, which is the inhaler for this drug, for its correct administration. The dose is formulated as a dry powder that is inhaled directly into the respiratory tract where it helps to treat and prevent infection by the virus.

For the treatment of influenza, it is recommended that two doses of Relenza be inhaled twice a day, usually twelve hours apart. This should be continued for five days, even if symptoms have already resolved, to prevent infection recurrence.

If the medication is being used as a preventative, a once-daily dose should be sufficient and may be taken for a longer period of time. It is not uncommon for people within a community affected by influenza to take the medication for a month as a preventative measure.

Side effects and safety precautions

Some patients who take Relenza may notice adverse effects such as dizziness, nasal irritation, and joint pain.

An allergy to zanamivir or other components in the medication is also possible; therefore, people who notice signs of an allergic reaction should seek immediate medical attention. Signs of an allergic reaction may include:

  • Hives
  • Rash
  • Itching
  • Swelling

Additionally, the inhaled formulation of Relenza may cause patients with certain medical conditions of the airways like asthma and emphysema to experience a flare-up of symptoms. This can lead to bronchospasm, which is a serious condition requiring emergency medical attention.

If individuals notice any of the following signs, they should see a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Whilst not common, the severity of this effect warrants close attention and monitoring of people who are at risk of bronchospasm.

References

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 18, 2021

Yolanda Smith

Written by

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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