Scientists say they have taken a major step towards developing a Universal Flue vaccine that protects against multiple strains of the influenza virus.
In two studies published in Nature and Science on Monday, two separate US teams describe how they created novel influenza vaccines that target the stem of the haemagglutinin (HA) molecule instead of the head.
The stem of the HA molecule is similar across different flu strains and mutates far less often.
Traditional flu vaccines target the head of a HA molecule that sits on the surface of flu viruses.
Flu viruses mutates at rapid speed, they copy themselves producing thousands of slightly different new viruses. Seasonal flu vaccines must be continually re-formulated to make sure they are effective that’s why flu vaccine is taken every year.
The two teams tested the vaccine on mice infected with H5N1 virus, a lethal influenza strain distantly related to H1N1. In both studies, the mice that did not receive the stem-derived vaccine died, but vaccinated mice all survived.
Doctors hope that a universal flu vaccine would do away with the need for patients at risk to have flu jabs yearly, even protect the public from dangerous, potentially pandemic, strains that came from animals into humans.
Other scientists not involved in the studies described them as a major step towards a universal vaccine, but cautioned that a lot of work has to be done, possibly over many years, before a vaccine can be tested on humans.
According to Antonio Lanzavecchia, an immunologist at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, “This is really cutting-edge technology.”
“There is still work to do, but this is a clear step forward and it’s headed in the right direction.”
“This is an exciting development, but the new vaccines now need to be tested in clinical trials to see how well they work in humans,” said Sara Gilbert of the University of Oxford. “It will take years to reach that point.”
“This is an important proof of concept for this vaccine approach,” according to David Morens, a senior advisor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health. IMAGE by Associated Press