Vaccines

Researchers go after the Holy Grail in flu research with the first big study for a universal jab

Seventeen months after spinning out of Oxford, Vaccitech has lined up some big partners to help start the world’s first big human study of a universal flu vaccine.

The National Institute for Health Research is kicking this off by recruiting 500 patients over the age of 65, the most vulnerable group during every flu season.

Every year, seasonal flu vaccine manufacturers gear up to create vaccines that target the proteins that lie on the surface of flu cells, looking to kick up an immune response against it. But they’re slapping a puck that has to hit a moving target that’s still months away from declaring itself — a tough job that often misses its mark.

The universal flu vaccine, which for years now has been a Holy Grail of research in the field, will try and do the work by targeting unchanging elements of the flu virus, making it far more effective. By going after core proteins, investigators believe they can arouse flu-specific T cells, as opposed to antibodies, either stopping the flu or dulling its impact.

That’s the theory, in any case. And it could prove a lifesaver for the hundreds of thousands of seniors facing the flu every year.

While this is being billed as the first big human study, much larger studies would be needed ahead of any approval, which is still years away — at best.


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