Successful Phase 1 trials show potential for universal flu vaccine

Vaccines have been a hot topic in the news lately, but looking beyond Covid-19, innovations in vaccine science are boosting health outcomes for other diseases as well. Most recently, a phase 1 clinical trial of a universal flu vaccine has shown promising results for producing immune response for multi-year protection against an array of influenza viruses. 

The common flu changes from season to season, which is why a yearly shot is required for defense against that specific year’s predicted strain. It is also an RNA-based strain which means it can mutate quickly, making it difficult to track its progress. Even with targeted yearly updates, flu vaccines are usually less than 50 percent effective. Although this is a great improvement on 0 percent protection, it’s not ideal. 

Traditional flu vaccines target the protein head of the virus and prompt our immune systems to make antibodies that fight it. This new and updated potential vaccine doesn’t target the head, but rather the stalk of the protein, which remains more stable from year to year. Stalk antibodies can help protect against multiple strains of the flu. 

To create this new vaccine, researchers created a synthetic head, called a chimera. This head doesn’t trigger the immune system, so it allows immune cells to focus on the stalk. Additionally, the vaccine produces a high volume of antibodies, making it highly effective. 

Although the vaccine prototype is still in its early stages, a universal flu vaccine has the potential to save tens of millions of lives over the next several decades. We will continue to follow this developing story and report back on its progress.

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