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Long-lasting flu vaccine in development

By Tim Sandle     Aug 25, 2015 in Science
Researchers have published successful data on their quest to develop a 'universal' flu vaccine. Trials relating to animal studies have recently been reported.
The idea behind a universal flu vaccine is that the annual flu shot would disappear and a one-off single administration of a dead form of the virus would be sufficient.
The idea behind an annual flu shot is based on a prediction of what will be the most common types of influenza viruses in a particular country or region during the flu season. This is based on epidemological information and computer modeling. To cover all of the basis, often a trivalent vaccine is used (one designed to be effective against three flu viruses, such as an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. Sometimes biologists get this wrong and the flu jab doesn't cover the main flu viruses prevalent for a given year.
The second reason for an annual shot is that each strain of the influenza virus mutates, meaning that a shot given for one form of the virus one season will probably no longer be effective the following season.
To overcome these issues, a race is underway to develop the first 'universal' flu shot. The premise is that some people can naturally combat different subtypes of the flu virus. Such people can develop powerful antibodies that target a site on the influenza virus that does not mutate rapidly, meaning they can resist a strain of the virus year after year.
Looking into this, a research team discovered a target on the influenza virus that does not readily mutate. It is this target that is the candidate for the vaccine: a protein on the surface of influenza, called hemagglutinin (HA). The biologists have been experimenting with different antibodies against HA, and thy have narrowed down the list to some key antibodies.
The research has completed some initial animal trials. While the results are promising, trials on humans remain some years away. It should be noted that vaccines carry risks and not all medics are advocates of vaccination.
The latest research has been undertaken at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) and the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson (Janssen). The findings are published in the journal Science, with the research headed "A stable trimeric influenza hemagglutinin stem as a broadly protective immunogen."
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