Universal Flu Vaccine In Development
Administration of flu shots have become a rite of passage for the fall season. Every year, we are advised to go to our doctor’s office or local pharmacy for a flu shot. But according to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, we may be close to a universal flu vaccine which, like other vaccines, only needs to be administered once (source: La Times). Collins says that the universal vaccine can hit clinics by 2016.
To understand the complex interplay between the influenza virus and accurate vaccine design, let’s look at the structure of the influenza virus. On the exterior of the influenza virus are spiked proteins called hemagluttanin. These spiked proteins are similar in shape to a nail. The head portion of this “nail” is constantly changing and distracts the immune system from seeing the less variable parts. It is the variable parts that the immune system focuses on.
It only takes one initial exposure to a flu virus or vaccine for the immune system to gain memory cells for any recurrent incident. For any future occurrences, the body makes antibodies that prevent viruses from entering or exiting cells. Killer immune cells are made with the mission to detect and destroy any infected cells. The immune system has a distinct memory that remembers past diseases. Though you will never get the same exact flu twice, there are infinitesimal variations in hemagluttanin heads, which is why we must get flu shots on an annual basis, to keep up with the changes.
The strategy for a universal flu vaccine is to target the unchanging part of the influenza virus. This universal vaccine can then theoretically train the immune system to identify and destroy any type of flu. BiondVax Pharmaceuticals, in Ness Ziona, Israel, has come up with one such method. BiondVax devised its vaccine by choosing nine constant parts of the influenza virus’ protein and stringing them together, or as BiondVax Corporate Vice President Wayne Rudolph calls it “a string of pearls”. These pieces will then teach the immune system to defend against influenza by processing antibodies and killer cells to attack the virus. BiondVax has already tested the formulation on nearly 200 people and blood tests showed that their immune system responded to the vaccine. BionVax has a projection to release this vaccine in 2014.Continued on the next page