Research brings promise of universal flu vaccine, protecting against strains that don’t yet exist

    23 July 2015

    According to new research published in mBio, the online journal of the American Society for Microbiology, scientists may be able to create a universal, future-proof flu vaccine.

    Currently new vaccines are developed every year to combat specific strains of the virus. The universal vaccine would provide protection against strains that are yet to develop.

    The study’s lead investigator, Jeffery Taubenberger, chief of viral pathogenesis and evolution at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes his team’s research could lead to the development of such a vaccine.

    ‘What we have done is design a strategy where you don’t have to think about matching the vaccine antigen to the virus at all.

    ‘There are 16 different hemagglutinin subtypes that circulate in birds and are thought to be the basis for current and future influenza pandemics. The hypothesis was that the presentation of these different viral proteins would stimulate the development of cross-protective immunity that would provide broader protection against multiple subtypes.’

    The researchers developed a vaccine which combined elements of multiple strains of influenza, including H1 and H3 (the primary cause of human seasonal flu outbreaks) and H5 and H7 (the cause of recent bird flu outbreaks).

    It was discovered that 95 per cent of mice vaccinated were protected against eight different strains of influenza, compared with five per cent that received mock vaccinations.

    Taubenberger said: ‘What that suggests is that this approach really gives us broad spectrum protection, and could serve as a basis for an effective pre-pandemic vaccine.’

    The researchers were particularly encouraged by the fact that the vaccine worked well in older mice. Current vaccines are less effective in elderly people, who are particularly susceptible to influenza.