The fact that flu viruses are so versatile poses a major challenge to the makers of the vaccines, because they only work well if the vaccine that is determined annually for the flu season actually protects against the strains that are dominant that year. A new mRNA vaccine developed in the US caused an antibody response against all 20 known flu variants in animal tests.
A research collective from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has now tested in animal studies a combination vaccine containing genetic material (mRNA) from all 20 known hemagglutinin types of the influenza A and B viruses. Hemagglutinin is the protein of the flu virus to which the human immune system responds with an immune response following infection or vaccination.
Modeled after Covid mRNA vaccine
The mRNA nanoparticle vaccine was modeled exactly on the approved mRNA vaccines against Covid-19 (from Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna). In mice, the vaccine elicited an antibody response against all 20 flu strains. The concentration of the antibodies in the blood had not fallen even after 118 days. That could speak of protection for a season, the researchers report in the journal Science.
Video: How mRNA Vaccines Work
May also be effective against bird flu
In the first preclinical tests, mice were vaccinated against certain death from flu. Vaccinated ferrets also survived the infection, which is about 50 percent fatal in this species without vaccination. Since all known hemagglutinin variants were included in the vaccine, such a vaccine could possibly also help against bird flu, it is said.
“Tests in animal models showed that this vaccine dramatically reduced the symptoms of the disease and protected against death – even when the animals were exposed to flu strains other than those in the vaccine,” the University of Pennsylvania reports on its site.
Fewer sick people and deaths in a pandemic
“The idea was to create a vaccine that would give people basic immunity against different flu strains. That should lead to much fewer illnesses and deaths in the next flu pandemic,” said lead author Scott Hensley of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
The advantage of mRNA vaccines: they can be produced much more cheaply and adapted more quickly because the antigens no longer have to be produced artificially. Instead, the vaccinees are injected with the RNA for the antigens. Vaccine production takes place in the body of the immunized.
Faster adaptation to new variants possible
The vaccines can also be adapted more quickly than the current flu vaccines. Today, these mostly contain dead viruses (or protein parts; note), 90 percent of which are reproduced in chicken embryos, requiring half a billion eggs a year. This is not only expensive, but also time consuming.
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