- An experimental flu vaccine on its early stage of human testing is looking up, according to reports published on Nature Medicine.
- The vaccine, which is being developed along with an adjuvant, may soon get rid of the need for yearly flu shots.
- The researchers are saying that with this new flu vaccine, one shot with an adjuvant will provide flu virus protection that will last for years.
- However, it will need to pass two more testing stages before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves it.
A new universal flu vaccine that can protect against all flu strains for years shows promise during its early-stage trial, says a report published in Nature Medicine.
The report revealed that Phase 1 of the human trials for the universal flu vaccine used what researchers called a “chimeric hemagglutinin (cHA)” sparked a strong, broad, and lasting immune response and produced side effects no different from the current seasonal flu shots already in the market.
Peter Palese, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Microbiology at Icahn School of Medicine, led the research on cHA-based flu vaccines.
Florian Krammer, the co-author the study, said that this is the first time an early human trial looked into a vaccine specifically designed to offer broad protection against all strains of flu—seasonal or otherwise.
Florian Krammer, vaccine specialist, and professor of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai in New York.
“It shows that it’s possible to think about how to design a vaccine to get the immune system to do what you want.”
The other members of the research team include Bruce Innis, M.D., Leader, Respiratory Infections and Maternal Immunizations at PATH; and Patrick Wilson, Ph.D., Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago. They are also looking into an adjuvant, an ingredient that boosts the effectiveness of vaccines, as part of the testing process.
Adolfo García-Sastre (left), Professor of Microbiology and Medicine and Director of the Global Health and Emerging Pathogens Institute is also a member of the research team.
Vaccine expert and research professor Dr. James Cherry from the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, said it promises a significant “first step” to the future of flu vaccines.
How does it work?
The universal cHA-based flu vaccines developed by the were meant to induce the immune system to create antibodies that targets the stem or stalk of the hemagglutinin—the little mushroom-like prongs on the flu virus’s surface.
For decades, the flu vaccine has always been designed to make the immune system target the head’s proteins—the part that mutates.
The old strategy of targeting the mutating head of the hemagglutinin makes sense since the immune system doesn’t pay much attention to the stalk of the virus.
The experimental flu vaccine is developed by combining the stalk that the body has seen, so the body will “preferentially respond with antibodies,” Krammer said.
Future direction and challenges
Krammer shared that this experimental flu vaccine will need to do well in the next two testing stages—Phase 2 and Phase 3—to acquire the approval of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Once completed, two or three upfront doses of the universal flu vaccine can keep people protected from flu for years, effectively getting rid of yearly flu shots. With an adjuvant, Krammer said, “one vaccination might be enough.”
Unfortunately, this development can still take years before the shots are available, mainly due to research funding, Krammer admitted.
Cherry also said it would need a large number of participants during the human testing phase for the research’s integrity.
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