HONG KONG, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Two teams of researchers say they have identified a key area of the H5N1 bird flu virus which appears to be involved in its replication and hope the discovery could speed up the design of new drugs.
In separate articles published in the journal Nature, the teams from France and China said the region of the virus could be an important target for the development of new drugs.
A member of the Chinese team said they had examined three proteins in the area and found they were involved in binding the virus to human cells and in virus replication.
"It (the area) has multi-functions ... and can be used as a target for new drugs," Yingfang Liu at the Institute of Biophysics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences told Reuters.
It is feared the H5N1 virus could kill millions in a pandemic if it ever mutated to transmit efficiently among people. There are currently two drugs, Roche’s ROG.VX Tamiflu and GlaxoSmithKline Plc’s (GSK.L) Relenza, which experts hope can be used to fight H5N1.
But reports of the growing drug resistance of some H5N1 strains have led researchers to try to design new drugs.
"Influenza viruses change (mutate) very frequently and for any disease, you will need different drugs. Our work provides a platform for drug (design)," Liu said.
The French team, led by Stephen Cusack at the Unit of Virus Host-Cell Interactions in Grenoble in southeast France, said their findings would help in the development of "inhibitors", or blockers, as potential new anti-influenza drugs.
Since 2003, the virus has infected 404 people in 15 countries and killed 254 of them. It has killed or forced the destruction of more than 300 million birds as it spread to 61 countries in Asia, the Midde East, Europe and Africa. (Reporting by Tan Ee Lyn; editing by Andrew Roche)