New Scientist magazine says the drug holds promise for treating a range of respiratory diseases in humans, including the deadly SARS virus.
Researchers explain respiratory viruses, such as influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, can be fatal and represent the third leading cause of death in babies. It's believed that much of the damage they cause results from the body's immune system going into overdrive.
Tracy Hussell and colleagues at Britain's Imperial College in London tested the drug on mice infected with influenza A, a strain that killed 20 million people in 1918. They found the drug stopped the serious weight loss seen in the illness and cut lung inflammation by about two-thirds.
John Oxford, a virologist and influenza expert at Queen Mary, University of London, told New Scientist he is excited by the results: "Obviously it's a big jump from mouse to human, but we can do it. Given that we are expecting a flu pandemic in the not too distant future, we need to build up our medicine cupboard."