STAY warm and drink plenty of fluids has been the best the world’s finest medical minds can come up with to treat a severe dose of the dreaded flu.

But now a cure has moved a step closer after a cutting edge Southampton company revealed it has developed a drug that stops the virus in its tracks.

Synairgen, a drug research company based on the result of studies at Southampton University, claims it has developed a “promising” way to halt the development of the flu virus.

The virus is among the most contagious diseases in the world. There is currently no cure, although there are vaccines available.

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Any effective treatment for the condition would corner a slice of global market potentially worth billions.

Synairgen’s product still faces a long route to market and will probably need a large pharmaceutical company as a partner.

Synairgen, which specialises in discovering drugs to treat respiratory conditions like asthma, has previously demonstrated its medicine’s ability to tackle swine flu.

In November last year it also showed the drug, known as inhaled interferon beta (IIB), can prevent the flu developing before it had taken hold. But now, new research has shown it’s also effective against full-blown cases. The company, which is now applying for a patent to protect its discovery, said a new study “suggests that the potential market may be much greater than previously thought; as patients with influenza may be treated both at an early and at a later stage following infection.”

Professor Stephen Holgate, co-founder of Synairgen said: “There are currently very few therapeutic options for treating patients with severe influenza other than those that target the virus itself.

“If this therapy is as broad-reaching as we think it may be, it may transform the treatment of influenza viruses especially those that become drug resistant whilst appropriate vaccines are being developed.”

Richard Marsden, CEO of Synairgen, said: “This is potentially an important breakthrough in the treatment of flu virus infection rather than its prevention. This represents an exciting new development opportunity.”

Synairgen is one of 12 firms to be spun out from the university since the year 2000 and one of just four to list on the AIM junior stock market, where it today has a market value of £12.5m.

Shares climbed 8.7 per cent on news of the breakthrough.