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Monash researchers deliver flu-fighter to the world

One of Monash University's most outstanding commercialised inventions is the anti-influenza drug Zanamivir (sold as Relenza).

Zanamivir is a first in-class antiviral drug developed for the treatment and prevention of influenza. A research team at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (formerly the Victorian College of Pharmacy) designed and discovered Zanamivir, which was subsequently developed by Biota and Glaxo (now GlaxoSmithKline). This new medicine was approved for marketing in the USA in 1999, and subsequently in a further 70 countries around the world.

Relenza works by inhibiting the life cycle of the flu virus. It blocks neuraminidase, a viral enzyme that allows the virus to multiply. It effectively prevents the virus escaping from the infected cells and spreading to healthy cells.

Human influenza infection affects up to 500 million people each year. For high-risk groups, complications from influenza can be fatal, with approximately 1500 deaths in Australia each year attributed to the infection. Influenza also has a significant economic impact, because of absenteeism and reduced productivity.

Professor Bill Charman, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash University, said the breakthrough medicine has been highly beneficial to patients around the globe and highlighted "the impact that high quality, collaborative, translational drug discovery research can have on human health".

Peter Cook, the CEO of Biota Holdings, Monash University's commercial partner, said the impact of Relenza was always going to be huge.

"Bear in mind this was a drug that could tame influenza for the first time ever in the history of mankind. Influenza has killed more people than any other disease on the planet and it has in fact killed more people than all wars combined. So, the impact of the discovery was and is quite significant," Mr Cook said.

"The process from medicinal chemistry laboratory to bedside was long and complex. Yet the many years of collaborative work and contributions from talented scientists at Monash, CSIRO, the ANU, Biota and Glaxo were clearly worth it in the end," Mr Cook said.

"The collaboration - and we've done more than one collaboration with Monash, which has on every occasion been commercially successful - has been intellectually rewarding, and it has been particularly pleasurable as a process, so we've been very pleased with the outcomes."