May 05, 2010 04:50am
A TASMANIAN company has used seaweed to develop a groundbreaking treatment for swine flu.
Laboatory trials over the past nine months using a compound in undaria seaweed harvested from waters at Triabunna, of Tasmania's East Coast, to inhibit the virus have been positive.
It promises to be the first major naturally derived breakthrough to treat swine flu.
Tasmanian scientist Helen Fitton yesterday announced the breakthrough was a significant step towards protecting the world against swine flu.
"With swine flu already becoming resistant to some other antiviral agents, we believe that the extract - known as Maritech 926 - offers a potent, natural alternative which supports the immune system against viral attacks," Dr Fitton said.
It takes about 200kg of undaria seaweed and highly sophisticated techniques to produce 1kg of pricey powder.
The biotechnology company Marinova, based at Cambridge, has been researching this compound, which is sugar based, for nearly eight years.
"In December new results found that it prevents the H1N1 virus from entering the cell and multiplying," Dr Fitton said.
"Once you reach the effective concentration the virus is unable to enter cells - and only millionths of a gram (of Maritech 926) is needed to be effective as an inhibitor to H1N1.
"This ingredient is ready now to be incorporated into a product to prevent H1N1 from entering your body.
"The compound protects the seaweed itself from marine toxins and pathogens and similarly protects against the type of viruses that affect human cells.
"It has also shown very good antiviral activities against a range of influenza strains, HIV and herpes."
Marinova managing director Paul Garrott said the product, which is environmentally sustainable, is at a commercially viable place right now.
Mr Garrott hopes that pharmaceutical companies will take deliveries soon in order to begin human trials.
The next step would be to manufacture it on a large scale, he said.
Scope also exists for the compound to be included in other pharmaceutical and medical device applications.
"It is ready to go. The commercial potential is enormous in nutritional supplements, hand washes and nasal delivery products which target the spread and prevention of viral conditions," he said.
"We believe that this is the only natural certified organic substance that has this level to inhibit swine flu.
"It is not a substitute for the swine flu vaccination, rather it is a first defence against swine flu.
"It is conceivable that there could be a product on the market within months."
Dr Fitton said there is a growing market for people who want to use completely natural products.
Dr Fitton said Maritech 926 is stable, water soluble and has an extended shelf life that makes it suitable for inclusion in a wide range of delivery systems, like hand wash.
The company has filed a patent for its breakthrough seaweed extract.
Lab tests were performed under contract by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the US.
Dr Helen Fitton with some of the seaweed that is processed to manufacture Maritech 926 - a product being used to fight swine flu. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE