Can we outwit the influenza virus with a universal vaccine?

2012

Challenge

A master of disguise, the influenza virus presents unique strains, or versions, of itself each season through its ability to mutate, rendering vaccines developed for particular strains ineffective against new viruses. A universal influenza vaccine could provide people with broad and long-lasting flu protection. But researchers did not know if the presence of existing antibodies—formed in response to a bout with the flu or a vaccination—would interfere with the efficacy of a universal vaccine.

Advance

IRP researchers led by Gary J. Nabel, M.D., Ph.D., tested if a prime-boost vaccination schedule would be negatively affected by the presence of existing antibodies. They found that animals receiving a special prime-boost vaccine regimen were still able to produce broadly neutralizing antibodies, regardless of pre-existing immunity.

Impact

Further development and testing of a universal human influenza vaccine to provide broad and long-lasting protection against multiple influenza virus strains is underway. If successful, an approved universal influenza vaccine could save billions of dollars and, more importantly, millions of lives.

Publications

Press Release – NIH Study Suggests Potential Hurdle to Universal Flu Vaccine Development May Be Overcome.

Wei CJ, Yassine HM, McTamney PM, Gall JG, Whittle JR, Boyington JC, Nabel GJ. (2012). Elicitation of broadly neutralizing influenza antibodies in animals with previous influenza exposure. Sci Transl Med. 4(147), 147ra114.