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FDA advisers to vote on flu-treatment inhaler

The experimental flu drug zanamivir is taken twice a day through an inhaler  

February 24, 1999
Web posted at: 9:29 a.m. EST (1429 GMT)

ATLANTA (CNN) -- A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee planned to vote Wednesday on an experimental flu drug that may, on average, cut a day or more off a bout with influenza.

The advisers will make a recommendation to the FDA, which usually agrees with its decision.

The new drug, zanamivir, is administered by inhaler twice a day. It works by blocking a protein the flu virus needs to replicate in the body.

"I felt great, I really did," said Elizabeth Zolowicz, who took part in a drug trial. "I took it about midnight the first time. By morning, fever was gone and I was so much better."

Studies in Europe, Australia and the United States showed flu patients who took zanamivir felt better two days earlier than patients who took a placebo.

The drug also helped relieve fever, cough, muscle aches and fatigue without side effects.

"In order for the drug to work, you really need to start it in the first 24 or 36 hours of the onset of symptoms," said Dr. Jacob Lalezeri, who headed a zanamivir study in San Francisco.

The drug also can be used as a preventive for patients who have been exposed to the flu. But Lalezeri cautioned that zanamivir has its limitations.

"This is not a cure for the common cold," he said. "It's a treatment for influenza, and there's a difference."

Zanamivir is the first drug found to be effective against both the A and B strains of influenza. Two other drugs -- amantadine and rimantadine -- are already on the market for the treatment of Influenza A.

If zanamivir is approved, manufacturer Glaxo-Wellcome plans to have it on the market in the fall, just in time for another flu season.

Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen contributed to this report.

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