Most drugs have side effects, but sometimes they’re actually good news.
Researchers are now exploring whether some cheap and common drugs have side effects that could help people fight off the flu and other lung infections.
This idea has a passionate advocate: Dr. David Fedson. About 10 years ago, this infectious disease specialist had a disturbing thought. He was working in the vaccine industry in France, and he started to wonder what would happen if, all of a sudden, the world was gripped with a flu pandemic.
One hundred years ago, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic swept the globe, killing 50 million people, or maybe more. Scientists fear a similar pandemic is only a matter of time. What then? Fedson wondered.
“No company had a strategy for dealing with the pandemic,” he says. “And also when you just looked at the arithmetic about how quickly they’d need literally billions of doses of the vaccine, which they couldn’t make in time, it became very clear the you simply can’t get there from here.”
Antiviral medications like Tamiflu are expensive and far from perfect. So Fedson decided what the world needed was a cheap and simple drug that wouldn’t cure the flu, but would help people weather the symptoms and survive.
He focused on drugs that would tamp down inflammation, which can make an infection deadly, “so that’s the general idea that I’ve been working on over the course of this last decade.”
That led him to think about the world’s most widely prescribed drugs, the statins – and it also led him to Dr. Jeffrey Jacobson, a lung specialist who studies the unusual properties of statins at the University of Illinois at Chicago.