Researchers Come Closer to Universal Flu Vaccine

With the discovery of two antibodies that together can disable most flu viruses, the long quest for a universal flu vaccine may be drawing to a close.

The long quest for a universal flu vaccine may be drawing to a close. In a Science study posted online last Thursday, researchers from the Scripps Research Institute in California and the Dutch pharmaceutical company Crucell announced that they had discovered an antibody with the ability to disable a wide variety of flu viruses. The discovery comes two years after the Scripps researchers discovered another antibody that affects a complementary group of flu viruses.

As of now, flu vaccines are formulated to protect against a range of viruses that are known to be circulating at a given time. As a result, they are powerless against unknown strains and can be quickly rendered obsolete by rapidly evolving viruses. The goal of the new research has been to find structures in the flu virus that remain the same despite this evolution and attack them.

By searching the blood of those who have been immunized with flu vaccines, the Scripps researchers first found an antibody called CR6261 that latches onto small sections of the envelopes surrounding the flu virus in a way that prevents the virus from transferring its genetic material into host cells to start a new infection. These sections, called epitopes, retain their structure across a wide variety of flu viruses.

Research on mice has found that CR6261 can protect against about half of all flu viruses, including those from the H1 strain, which includes the H1N1 swine flu. The newly discovered antibody, CR8020, has been shown to work against most other varieties of flu virus, including those in the H3 and H7 strains. Human trials testing the ability of the CR6261 antibody to protect against flu viruses are set to start soon, and trials testing CR8020 in humans are being planned.

Ultimately, the researchers hope that the two antibodies can be combined into a single vaccine that would protect against most strains of flu virus, known and unknown.

Around the Web:

Universal flu vaccine a step closer [The Telegraph]

A Highly Conserved Neutralizing Epitope on Group 2 Influenza A Viruses [Science Express]

Discovery of Natural Antibody Brings a Universal Flu Vaccine a Step Closer [Scripps Research Institute]