Innovation

Universal Flu Vaccine Update: Scientists Develop 2 Drugs That Could Save Lives, Guard Against Pandemics

A new study, which was published in Bioinformatics, revealed that an international team of researchers has designed two universal influenza vaccines which potentially could protect against future global pandemics and save millions of lives. One vaccine design is United States-specific and covers 95 percent of influenza strains in the 50 states, and the second is a universal vaccine that covers 88 percent of known flu strains globally, according to a news release.

The collaboration, which included teams from the universities of Lancaster, Aston, and Complutense in Madrid, used computer technology to design the vaccines. The team is now looking for pharmaceutical partners to synthesize their vaccine for a laboratory test, the release noted.

flu season Will these vaccines put an an end to flu season? Photo courtesy of Getty Images/Ted Aljibe

“Every year we have a round of flu vaccination, where we choose a recent strain of flu as the vaccine, hoping that it will protect against next year’s strains. We know this method is safe, and that it works reasonably well most of the time. However, sometimes it doesn’t work – as in the H3N2 vaccine failure in winter 2014-2015 – and even when it does it is immensely expensive and labor-intensive,” Dr Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University told the institution. “Also, these yearly vaccines give us no protection at all against potential future pandemic flu.”

The new design used technology to devise vaccines that have a broader range of coverage. 

“A universal flu vaccine is potentially within reach,” Dr Pedro Reche of Complutense University said. “The components of this vaccine would be short flu virus fragments – called epitopes – that are already known to be recognized by the immune system. Our collaboration has found a way to select epitopes reaching full population coverage.”

The World Health Organization estimates that annual flu epidemics can cause up to half a million deaths globally. An influenza vaccine is considered the best way to reduce your chances of getting the bug. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older receive one every year because the virus and vaccines vary from season to season, so last year's vaccine won't protect you. 

Source: Sheikh QM, Gatherer D, Reche PA, Flower DR. Towards The Knowledge-Based Design Of Universal Influenza Epitope Ensemble Vaccines. Bioinformatics. 2016.

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