Trials make headway for universal flu vaccine

Recent clinical trials at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston demonstrated a universal influenza vaccine that targets a protein common to all strains of influenza A and safely produces an immune response in humans.

If the universal influenza vaccine candidate is proven to be effective, it could eliminate the practice of creating a new flu vaccine annually to match predicted strains and could have major implications for global health.

The vaccine candidate - VAX102 - targets the M2e protein that is found on the surface of the influenza A virus. The M2e antigen has been completely unchanged from 1918 until the most recent pandemic, making it viable for the immune response targeted by researchers that could be stable over multiple seasons.

The vaccine would not require annual updates, which could lower the barrier to influenza prevention throughout the world.

"As we saw in the 2009 influenza pandemic, there is a great public and global health need for a rapid, scalable model for vaccine production," Christine B. Turley, the lead author of the study and a member of UTMB's Sealy Center for Vaccine Development, said. "If ultimately proven effective, VAX102 will meet this need and offer a completely new approach to global flu prevention and control."

All vaccinated subjects in the study showed some degree of antibody response with more than a four-fold increased noted in all groups by 14 days after the second vaccine dose. The next step of the process will be to determine to what degree the vaccine may be effective against influenza infection.

The VAX102 is rapidly producible from the process of simple bacterial fermentation. It may also hold promise as an improved vaccine for the elderly.

"Our immune response deteriorates with age," Turley said. "Currently, the elderly aren't afforded as much protection from the flu vaccine as younger individuals. Rather than giving the elderly higher doses of a vaccine each year, VAX102 could afford long-term protection or be used as a booster strategy, maximizing immune memory."

The trials were funded by a $9.5 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and involved collaboration with biotechnology company VaxInnate.