Universal flu vaccine designed by scientists

Scientists have designed a new generation of universal flu vaccines to protect against future global pandemics that could kill millions.

October is finally here, but along with fall foliage and the annual seasonal holidays, consumers also have to prepare for the start of flu season. Getting a flu shot can provide some protection against the influenza virus, but the vaccine is not a guarantee of good health.

In order to address this problem, an international team of researchers have designed a new class of universal flu vaccines by using groundbreaking computational techniques. These new methods allowed researchers to analyze flu strains, vaccines, and the human immune system to generate what the authors believe to be a longer-lasting, more effective means of fighting the influenza virus.

Now, a new generation of universal flu vaccines has been designed, to protect against the future global pandemics that could potentially kill millions of people.

The first vaccine is specific to the United States and is expected to cover 95% of known influenza strains in the country. The second is a universal vaccine that will supposedly cover 88% of all global flu strains. The researchers are currently seeking pharmaceutical partners to synthesize the vaccines so that a laboratory proof-of-principle test can be conducted.

The components of this universal flu vaccine would be short flu virus fragments - called epitopes - that are already known to be recognized by the immune system. “Our collaboration has found a way to select epitopes reaching full population coverage,” said Pedro Reche of Complutense University, Madrid, Spain

“We know this method is safe, and that it works reasonably well most of the time,” said Derek Gatherer of Lancaster University in Britain.

“However, sometimes it doesn’t work - as in the H3N2 (influenza A) vaccine failure in winter 2014-2015 - and even when it does it is immensely expensive and labour-intensive. Also, these yearly vaccines give us no protection at all against potential future pandemic flu,” Gatherer added.

The researchers have applied ground-breaking computational techniques to design the vaccine.

“Based on our knowledge of the flu virus and the human immune system, we can use computers to design the components of a vaccine that gives much broader and longer-lasting protection,” Gatherer said, in the study published in the journal Bioinformatics.

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