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Universal flu vaccine shows promise in phase 1 study

Universal flu vaccine shows promise in phase 1 study
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Results from a phase one trial indicate that that it may be possible to immunize people against all strains of influenza, scientists say.

A strong immune response in the universal flu vaccine was observed by researchers with the same side effects that are seen in the current seasonal flu vaccine NBC News reports.

Flu vaccines are not always as effective as manufacturers want them to be due to the nature of the influenza virus, which is constantly mutating, meaning a vaccine may not match with the strain that is currently circulating.

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“This was the first time that a phase one study in humans looked at a rationally designed vaccine that has the potential to protect against all kinds of seasonal flu, as well as a potential flu pandemic,” said Florian Krammer, co-author of the study and a vaccine specialist. “It shows that it’s possible to think about how to design a vaccine to get the immune system to do what you want and how to rationally design vaccines to get broad protection.”

According to Krammer, a microbiology professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai, the need for an annual flu vaccine could become obsolete if the vaccine does well in both the phase two and phase three trials, which are needed to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, Krammer stated that a lack of funding for research would likely stall the availability of the vaccine for a few years.

According to NBC News, the vaccine being researched at Mt. Sinai targets a different part of the virus’s structure from the typical flu vaccine. The annual flu vaccine targets the top of mushroom-shaped structures on the surface of the virus that are constantly changing, leading to the need for updated vaccines every year. The immune system generally seeks out these specific structures when looking for microbial invaders.

The Mt. Sinai vaccine instead targets the part below the head of the mushroom structure, the stalk. This part of the virus does not change significantly over time, but the immune system is not accustomed to looking for these parts of the virus. According to Krammer, the challenge in creating a universal vaccine is training the immune system to recognize proteins specifically on the stalk.

This news comes as several pharmaceutical and biotech companies have announced their own success in producing a coronavirus vaccine that initiated a strong immune response to COVID-19. Pfizer and Moderna have both applied for emergency authorization in the U.S., with Pfizer's vaccine already approved in the U.K.

Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, has stated that he hopes the pandemic changes the future of how vaccines are produced, making production faster and more streamlined.

Health experts have warned Americans could face a particularly deadly winter with the one-two punch of an annual flu surge and rising cases of the coronavirus.