Two drug giants team up to develop new bird flu therapy

Two major drug companies have teamed up in order to develop a treatment for pandemic flu strains.

Novartis and Alnylam Pharmaceuticals say the treatment could be used to treat avian flu in humans.

The two have apparently signed a multi-year contract and plan to accelerate the development of RNAi therapy for clinical testing and then hopefully achieve regulatory approval.

RNAi therapeutics is a relatively new area of research which "silences" disease-causing genes, and is expected to have anti-viral effects against any newly emerging strain of influenza that may cause disease in humans, including the H5N1 avian flu strain and any variant of it.

Although Alnylam currently has no drugs on the market it is regarded as a leader in RNAi therapy.

The group has already received initial U.S. government funding to develop the therapy, which could potentially be applied to fight a wide range of diseases.

The technology is considered to be in the early stages at present.

The deadly new H5N1 strain of avian flu which is now endemic in the poultry population in Southeast Asia and has now spread to Europe and Africa.

The disease remains a bird disease but has killed over 90 people to date who had been in contact with infected birds.

Millions of birds have been culled in an attempt to halt it's spread.

The only two drugs currently available to treat the virus are Roche's Tamiflu, and GlaxoSmithKline's Relenza.

At least 11 countries have reported bird flu outbreaks over the past three weeks, indicating that the virus is spreading quickly among animals.

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