Insect cells provide the key to alternative H1N1 flu vaccination

Scientists in Vienna have developed a new technique for producing vaccines for H1N1 based on insect cells, according to a report by ScienceDaily on Jan. 4.

The research, published in the Biotechnology Journal, reveals how influenza vaccines can be produced faster than through the traditional method of egg-based production, revealing a new strategy for the fight against influenza pandemics.

"Recent outbreaks of influenza highlight the importance of a rapid and sufficient vaccine supply for pandemic and inter pandemic strains," said co-author Florian Krammer from the University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Science in Vienna. "However, classical manufacturing methods for vaccines fail to satisfy this demand."

Traditional influenza vaccines, which are produced in embryonated chicken eggs, can be manufactured in the quantities needed for seasonal strains of influenza. Yet because of limited egg supply this method may be insufficient in a pandemic scenario, such as the current H1N1 flu pandemic.

The team's new method turns to insect cell based technology to create recombinant influenza virus-like particles, which resemble virus particles but lack the viral nucleic acid, so they are not infectious.

The Austrian team took just 10 weeks to produce swine-origin pandemic H1N1 influenza VLPs for immunological study in mice. This shows that production of a mock-up vaccine is feasible in this time range, outcompeting conventional production methods, which take months.

Using insect cells also bypasses the disadvantages of egg-based production, such as limited production capacity, allergic reactions to egg proteins and biosafety issues.

"Our work demonstrates that recombinant influenza virus-like particles are a very fast, safe and efficient alternative to conventional influenza vaccines and represents a significant new approach for newly emerging influenza strains like swine-origin H1N1 or H5N1," Krammer concluded.

"Virus-like particles will be one solution to tackle the biological variability of influenza pandemics," journal editor Professor Alois Jungbauer said. "Mutated strains can be quickly engineered. So in this respect the teams' work is an extremely valuable contribution to modern vaccine production."