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Universal flu vaccine on the horizon?

June 8, 2011 - Washington

Seems like a universal flu vaccine is on the horizon, with researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, successfully testing a vaccine that could work against all known strains of the illness.

The vaccine has now safely produced an immune response in humans.

If proven effective, the vaccine could eliminate the practice of creating a new flu vaccine annually to match predicted strains.

The vaccine candidate, VAX102, targets a Protein known as M2e, found on the surface of the influenza A virus, that has remained relatively unchanged over the last century.

VAX102 consists of 4 copies of M2e fused to the Protein flagellin, a TLR5 ligand used as an adjuvant. The M2e antigen had been completely unchanged from 1918 until the recent pandemic, making it of interest to researchers searching for a target for the immune response to influenza that would be stable over many seasons.

Unlike traditional flu vaccines, which target antigens that change continuously, the prototype VAX102 represents a vaccine that would not require annual updates, an important 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," said lead author Christine B. Turley, M.D., Vice Chair for Clinical Services, Department of Pediatrics and a member of UTMB's Sealy Center for Vaccine Development.

"If ultimately proven effective, VAX102 will meet this need and offer a completely new approach to global flu prevention and control," she added.

Two studies, conducted at UTMB and Johnson County Clin-Trials in Lenexa, Kansas, assessed the safety, tolerability and immunogenicity - the induced immune response - of VAX102.

Healthy adults ages 18-49 were randomly assigned to receive two doses of either vaccine or placebo. The two studies established the dose range for further study. Doses ranging from 0.03 to 10 micrograms were studied.

Individuals at the highest doses had more systemic reactions; doses of 1 microgram or less were safe. All vaccinated subjects showed some degree of antibody response, with a more than four-fold increase noted in all groups by 14 days after the second dose of vaccine.

The results of the clinical trials were published online in the journal Vaccine.


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