The seriousness of disease often results from the strength of immune response, rather than with the virus, itself. Turning down that response, rather than attacking the virus, might be a better way to reduce that severity, said Juliet Morrison of the University of Washington, Seattle.

She and her collaborators have now taken the first step in doing just that for the H7N9 influenza, and their work has already led to identification of six potential therapeutics for this highly virulent strain. The research is published ahead of print in the Journal of Virology.

The investigators then used a computational approach to identify drugs that could potentially dampen the harmful host response.

“Six of these drugs are FDA approved and could potentially be repurposed as H7N9 influenza therapeutics,” said Morrison. “I believe that computational biology represents an exciting new way to study viruses and to discover drugs to fight them.”