The Big Idea
Published: December 15, 2009
Art by Bryan Christie. Reporting by Farhana Hossain. Sources: Zirus; National Institutes of Health; Harvard Medical School
Hit Them Where They Live
Viruses that infect us can’t spread without us. Finding their helpers inside human cells may yield drugs that stop pandemics.
Within a few months of the outbreak of swine flu last spring, public health officials reported the first cases resistant to Tamiflu. It was no surprise. The previous winter most cases of seasonal flu had also proved resistant to the drug. Why don’t we have antivirals as good as antibiotics are against bacteria? Viruses are wilier; they mutate so fast that they slink from the grasp of even the best designed drugs. But researchers are now working on a radical new strategy that just might help ward off future pandemics and produce the antiviral equivalent of amoxicillin. The idea is simple: Instead of attacking viruses directly, target the human cells they infect.