Research Shows Promise for Universal Flu Vaccine

July 20, 2010

A universal influenza vaccine that could potentially provide protection from all flu strains for decades may soon become a reality, according to new findings.

A universal influenza vaccine that could potentially provide protection from all flu strains for decades may soon become a reality.

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, utilized a two-step immunization approach in experiments with mice, ferrets, and monkeys “to elicit infection-fighting antibodies that attacked a diverse array of influenza virus strains.” Current flu vaccines are not able to generate such broadly neutralizing antibodies, and therefore must be reformulated annually to match the predominant virus strains circulating each year.

“Generating broadly neutralizing antibodies to multiple strains of influenza in animals through vaccination is an important milestone in the quest for a universal influenza vaccine,” says NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., in a NIAID report. “This significant advance lays the groundwork for the development of a vaccine to provide long-lasting protection against any strain of influenza. A durable and effective universal influenza vaccine would have enormous ramifications for the control of influenza, a disease that claims an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 lives annually, including an average of 36,000 in the United States.”

The research, led by NIAID scientist Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., is published online ahead in Science Express.

“We are excited by these results,” said Nabel. “The prime-boost approach opens a new door to vaccinations for influenza that would be similar to vaccination against such diseases as hepatitis, where we vaccinate early in life and then boost immunity through occasional, additional inoculations in adulthood.”