Is a universal flu vaccine within reach?

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have begun testing an experimental universal flu vaccine.A universal vaccine would be more effective and not require yearly shots.

Scientists hope the vaccine can be delivered nasally, blocking infections and reducing transmission to other people.

“Influenza can be considered a ‘continuously emerging’ infectious disease, and the diverse and rapidly evolving influenza viruses are a significant public health threat,” Dr. Jeffery K. Taubenberger, senior investigator for the NIH, told Medical News Today.

“On a global level, millions of influenza infections occur annually, mainly in the form of seasonal epidemics causing millions of severe infections and up to 500,000 deaths.”

– Dr. Jeffrey K. Taubenberger “On top of that,” he noted, “the unpredictable introduction of antigenicallyTrusted Source novel influenza A viruses from animals to humans can lead to the development of pandemics with even greater public health impacts. The 1918 influenza pandemic resulted in at least 50 million deaths globally.”

Dr. Taubenberger is the principal investigator of a promising animal study testing a universal flu vaccine in mice.

While the final publication of Dr. Taubenberger’s research is not expected until later this month, it has become the basis of a universal vaccine candidate called BPL-1357. It is now entering phase 1 clinical trials at the NIH to assess its safety for humans.

A successful universal flu vaccine would be effective against current and future viral strains and not require yearly reformulation or shots.

“If such a vaccine strategy could be developed,” said Dr. Taubenberger, “this would be a major public health achievement.”

What the experimental vaccine contains BPL-1357 contains strains of avian flu. Dr. Taubenberger explained why: “All influenza A viruses in humans are ultimately derived from the wild avian viral pool, which is very extensive and diverse antigenically and genetically.”

“In birds, there are 16 subtypes of hemagglutinin (HA) and 9 subtypes of neuraminidase (NA), the two major surface proteins of the virus,” he pointed out.

“We chose a set containing 4 HA subtypes — H1, H3, H5, and H7 — for two reasons,” he went on to explain. “First, H1 and H3 have caused the majority of human influenza infections over the last century.

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