The "Universal Flu Vaccine" Undergoes 2,000-patient Trial


Developed by Oxford University researchers, the vaccine could possibly be administered in 5-year intervals.

flu, vaccine

A study testing for the ultimate flu vaccine has almost begun.

A potentially universal vaccine capable of fighting forms of the flu virus will be tested in a 2-year, 2,000-patient clinical trial in England.

The vaccine, developed by Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and spin-out biotech company Vaccitech, uses proteins in the virus’ core rather than those on the surface.

Current flu vaccines, which are produced new annually to match circulating strains, rely on less-stable surface proteins, which change with the frequency of virus strains. The core, however, stays consistent. As a result, the vaccine could potentially also work against bird and swine flu strains.

The new vaccine would also stimulate patient immune systems to boost T-cells, rather than antibodies, to combat the virus. The result could be a more efficient and longer-lasting protection from viruses, when combined with a regular seasonal flu shot.

Currently midway through phase 2-b testing, the vaccine is the first with universal-use potential to progress beyond phase 1 research.

“We’re hoping it will last 2 to 3 years — maybe even 4 years — but we really don’t know until we do the trials,” Vaccitech chief executive Tom Evans said.

Berkshire and Oxfordshire residents are being recruited for the initial phase of the trial involving 500 patients, in which a half-placebo population will be randomly made. Even if success is noted at the end of this year's flu season and next, Vaccitech co-founder Sarah Gilbert said more research will be necessary.

“We expect that the protection from the new vaccine will last longer than a year, but we will need to test that with more clinical trials in the future,” Gilbert said.

Vaccinations may one day be given at 5-year intervals rather than annually, Gilbert said. But first, the universal vaccine must be tested for protection through this upcoming flu season.

If the vaccine reports success in the 2-year trial, Evans expects a financial partner may join for the latter trial developments — before the vaccine would seek market approvals.

“We would look for a better-capitalized company to take this into final phase 3 tests,” Evans said.

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