Viruses, particularly those that are harmful to humans, are the ‘silent terrorists’ of the twenty-first century. Well over four million humans die per annum as a result of viral infections alone. The scourge of influenza virus has plagued mankind throughout the ages. The fact that new viral strains emerge on a regular basis, particularly out of Asia, establishes a continual socio-economic threat to mankind. The arrival of the highly pathogenic avian influenza H5N1 heightened the threat of a potential human pandemic to the point where many countries have put in place ‘preparedness plans’ to defend against such an outcome. The discovery of the first designer influenza virus sialidase inhibitor and anti-influenza drug RelenzaTM, and subsequently TamifluTM, has now inspired a number of continuing efforts towards the discovery of next generation anti-influenza drugs. Such drugs may act as ‘first-line-of-defence’ against the spread of influenza infection and buy time for necessary vaccine development particularly in a human pandemic setting. Furthermore, the fact that influenza virus can develop resistance to therapeutics makes these continuing efforts extremely important.
An overview of the role of the virus-associated glycoprotein sialidase (neuraminidase) and some of the most recent developments towards the discovery of anti-influenza drugs based on the inhibition of influenza virus sialidase is provided in this chapter.