A universal flu vaccine has passed the first stage of human trials

Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:29 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:29 pm

A ‘one size fits all’ universal flu vaccine has passed the first stage of human trials - a step towards protecting people from a wide range of flu viruses.

The universal influenza virus vaccine could provide long lasting protection against new viruses, and be crucial in terms of preventing the next pandemic.

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Passed phase one trials

The vaccine, designed to fight against influenza and virus mutations, passed phase one trials. A total of 66 recipients were followed over 18 months, and scientists found the vaccine created a “broad, strong, durable and functional immune response.”

The study, published in Nature Medicine, revealed that it was the first time a phase one study in humans looked into a “rationally designed vaccine that has the potential to protect against all kinds of seasonal flu.”

Adolfo García-Sastre, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, told The Times it was the result of many years of work.

“We have been trying to develop a flu vaccine that will not require annual vaccination, because it will provide immunity against any influenza strain,” he said.

“It will also then protect against even the exotic viruses that come from time to time from birds or from swine and cause pandemics.”

The results from the Phase one trial were positive, but so far the universal vaccine has only been tested on people aged between 18 and 39, and the immune response has yet to be shown to prevent infection.

The key objective of the study was to determine whether the new vaccine would be safe. The only side effects seen in the 66 volunteers were ones normally experienced from a flu jab, including fatigue, headache and muscle aches.

What does this mean?

The study’s co-author Florian Krammer revealed that if the vaccine continues to show progress in the next two stages of testing required to get Food and Drug Administration approval, this could potentially mean the end of yearly flu jabs.

However, we may have to wait a while, as Krammer said it could still take several years before the vaccines are available, mainly due to funding for the research.

New influenza viruses were declared a “major public health concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Universal influenza kills around 650,000 people a year.

Daniel Davis, professor of immunology at Manchester University, said that a universal flu vaccine was a longstanding goal of the field, but that “getting it to work in practice is the hard bit.”

How does the new vaccine work?

The universal influenza virus vaccine targets a different area than the current flu jabs.

The surface of flu virus particles are sprinkled with mushroom-like prongs, with a head and stem. Past vaccines have been designed to point the immune system to proteins on the head, where mutations occur.

The universal vaccine, however, aims for the stem, which does not change over time, making it a better long term target. The only challenge is that the immune system in our body doesn't normally concentrate on that part of the virus.

The team behind the new vaccine must now find a way to train the immune system to hone in on proteins on the stalk.