A Universal Flu Vaccine to Protect Against Future Pandemics Available in Two Years

A Universal Flu Vaccine
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The University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine recently announced that their researchers had developed a new multivalent vaccine. They said that it could protect against 20 subtypes of the flu virus and will function as a preventative measure against flu pandemics in the future. 

The new vaccine

The new vaccine developed by the Perelman School of Medicine researchers uses the same mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) technology pioneered by Moderna SARCS-Cov-2 and Pfizer vaccines. Scott Hanley, a professor of Microbiology at the Perelman School of Medicine and senior author of the study, said they want a vaccine that can give immune memory at a baseline level to the different flu strains. Thus, there will be fewer diseases and deaths when there is another flu pandemic. Incidentally, Professor Henley developed the multivalent vaccine. 

The primary role of mRNA technology 

When a flu pandemic occurs, the death toll is massive. For example, the Spanish flu pandemic killed millions worldwide. Researchers said the strains of flu viruses, most of which circulate among animals, move to humans and develop mutations, which spread the virus further. The flu vaccines available today are for seasonal use and only help protect people against the current strains. Thus, the annual influenza vaccine cannot protect against new flu virus strains. 

Prof. Henley explained that it would be a major challenge to immunize people against all flu virus subtypes using a conventional flu vaccine. But the mRNA technology they applied to the new vaccine enabled it to create copies of hemagglutinin protein upon injection. Hemagglutinin is a key flu virus protein. The experimental vaccine created copies for all 20 influenza hemagglutinin subtypes: from H1 to H18 for influenza A and two subtypes for influenza B.  

mRNA technology
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Lab test observations

The researchers said that the experimental vaccine not only provides sterilizing immunity. When they tested it on lab animals, the mRNA raised the levels of antibodies. In addition, they observed that the antibodies reacted to the 20 flu virus subtypes. Moreover, the lab animals’ previous exposure to other flu vaccines did not affect the new vaccine.

The difference of the new vaccine is that it does more than provide immunity to prevent viral infections. Rather, it calls forth a memory immune response that the body’s immune system could quickly recall and adapt to fight against the new viral strains. With this development, there will be a huge reduction in severe illness or death.

Preparing for human trials 

The research team is now preparing for human trials. If they are successful, the new vaccine will help develop long-term immune memory to fight all subtypes of influenza in all age groups. 

Prof. Henley said that the vaccine would potentially reduce severe flu infection. Moreover, the multivalent mRNA technology may also be effective against other viruses, including coronaviruses

Although not connected to the research, Prof. John Oxford, a neurologist from London’s Queen Mary University, said that the new vaccine could be ready by next winter and considers the study a huge breakthrough in the fight against respiratory viruses.