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The Quest for a Universal Vaccine Against Influenza

November 22, 2013 - Heidelberg, Germany

Seasonal influenza occurs all over the world with an annual global attack rate estimated at 5 - 10% in adults and 20 - 30% in children, and causes about three to five million cases of severe illness and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths. The most effective way to prevent the disease or severe outcome is vaccination. However, due to the unpredictable and highly mutable nature of the influenza virus, current vaccines only offer limited protection against new variants and need to be administered annually. To overcome these weaknesses, a consortium of European experts has joint forces in the EDUFLUVAC project, which has been awarded a grant of EUR 4.5 million by the European Commision to develop a broad-spectrum, long-lasting vaccine against influenza.

"Developing a universal flu vaccine has become a global health priority for preventing the spread of the virus and the emergence of new strains, and we are convinced that EDUFLUVAC will be a major step forward towards achieving this goal", says Othmar Engelhardt, principal investigator at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control, United Kingdom.

The innovation brought by EDUFLUVAC lies in the development of a combinatorial immunisation strategy, which aims to "educate" the immune system to cross-recognise common regions within multiple influenza virus strains, and which is expected to confer better protection against epidemic influenza. The development of a "universal" influenza vaccine would offer the tremendous advantage of eliminating the need for a "seasonal" vaccine every year and annual vaccination campaigns.

Odile Leroy, Executive Director of the European Vaccine Initiative and coordinator of EDUFLUVAC, says: "Low and middle-income countries currently have minimal influenza vaccination programmes. Thus, the development of a vaccine that elicits broad long-lasting defence would facilitate vaccination campaigns and confer protection against influenza in hitherto untargeted groups with limited health care".

The EDUFLUVAC consortium is a public-private partnership comprising seven renowned organisations from Europe. The four-year project brings together two small-medium enterprises from Switzerland and Portugal -Redbiotec and iBET, respectively- and a biotechnology company from Italy -ETNA- with prominent researchers from two Dutch institutes - the Biomedical Primate Research Centre and the Central Veterinary Institute - and the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. EDUFLUVAC is coordinated by one of Europe's leading Product Development Partnership, the European Vaccine Initiative, headquarted in Germany.

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