New Drugs Are Coming to Fight Nasty Flu Seasons

Flu has been on a vicious march this winter, evading vaccines, overwhelming hospitals and prompting school closures from California to Hong Kong in its wake. But relief in the form of new drugs is on the way.

Almost two decades after Roche Holding AG’s Tamiflu first reached pharmacy shelves, researchers around the world are pushing ahead with a raft of new options. None will arrive in time to help sufferers this winter, but the most advanced — developed by Roche and Shionogi & Co. — could be on the market in Japan within months and available in the U.S. and Europe next winter.

The new medicines will give doctors more options for treating and preventing a disease that kills as many as 650,000 people worldwide in its seasonal form and could wipe out millions of lives in a severe pandemic. The global influenza therapeutics market will swell to $1.2 billion by 2025, from $600 million in 2016, Acute Market Reports predicted in December.

“For several decades now, we have not sought to develop the tools we need to fight the flu,” said Olga Jonas, a senior fellow at the Harvard Global Health Institute in Boston and former World Bank economist. “The tax we pay for this folly is as inexorable as it is enormous.”

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