Amidst the flu scare that’s currently engulfing the world, a U.K.-based biotech company has just obtained the necessary funding to develop the world’s first universal flu vaccine further.
The U.K.-based biotech company, Vaccitech, has reportedly drawn $27 million in new funding to support the clinical trials of a universal flu vaccine, the first of its kind in the world. According to reports, among the company’s investors is GV, the venture capital arm of Alphabet. The project is aimed at developing a vaccine that will fight off flu viruses by using the proteins at its core.
In a January 8th report this year from the World Health Organization, influenza A (H3N2) and B viruses accounted for the majority of influenza cases worldwide. In North America alone, cases of influenza A have been found to have increased significantly last year. Seasonal influenza activity in Europe has also risen above the baseline levels, especially in countries situated in the Northern and Southwestern regions of the continent.Universal flu vaccine from Vaccitech & @JennerInstitute begins clinical trialsClick To Tweet
It is also reported that this year’s flu season is considered worse than the usual, with twenty confirmed deaths since October 2017 in the United States. Furthermore, the first week of January has already seen 22.7 out of every 100,000 hospitalizations in the country as flu cases. It seems to be a never-ending struggle with seasonal vaccines getting less and less effective as flu viruses mutate and get stronger every year.
However, Vaccitech’s flu vaccine might become a major game changer, potentially turning the tides in favor of humanity.
The World’s First Universal Flu Vaccine
The vaccine, known as MVA-NP+M1, has already been patented by Vaccitech and was successfully tested for safety across 145 people. The universal flu vaccine is said to be based on the proteins found in the core of flu viruses which are present in all of its known strains.
Currently, seasonal flu vaccines use surface proteins found outside of flu cells to stimulate our body’s immune system and produce the needed antibodies. However, one major problem that plagues researchers is that viruses tend to mutate each year. As these viruses mutate, so do the surface proteins, which means the flu vaccines have to be modified too.
“Global scientists, therefore, have to predict what each new annual strain of flu will look like. Unfortunately, sometimes by the time the vaccine has been made, the strain of virus that is causing illness has changed, and the vaccine doesn’t work well,” Vaccitech said in a statement released last year.
Now, by using the core proteins of the virus, researchers were given enough time to create a vaccine that will work against all kinds of seasonal flu viruses. Instead of antibodies, the new vaccine will stimulate the immune system to boost the body’s T-Cell that will kill the virus before it spreads.
Right now, the universal flu vaccine has started its Phase 2 clinical trial. It is currently being tested worldwide in 862 people aged 65 and older. All participants will receive regular flu shots on top of the new vaccine or a placebo shot for comparison. The researchers believe that their new vaccine would be able to increase the participants’ protection against flu far better than if they only received the usual annual shot.
Should the universal flu vaccine produce the expected results, it will move immediately to the final trial phase. In an interview with Reuters, Vaccitech CEO Tom Evans said that if all goes well with the new vaccine, it might become available on the market in the next 5 to 7 years.
MVA-NP+M1 has been developed by Vaccitech together with Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. It is being managed by the University’s Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences with support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands.