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.