Developing a universal flu vaccine

Seasonal ‘flu' causes 250,000 to 500,000 deaths and three to five million cases of severe illness worldwide each year (World Health Organisation, 2014).

There is an added risk of global pandemics, where extremely infectious strains of influenza are spread around the world (as with the 2009 A/H1N1 strain, or the outbreak in 1918 which caused more deaths than the preceding World War). This makes the need for the creation of a universal vaccine particularly pressing.

Why a universal vaccine?

Current conventional flu vaccines are generated each year to produce immunity against the particular strains of influenza that are prevalent that year. This means that each season the prevalent strain of flu must be identified, a strain-specific vaccine produced, and the population encouraged to receive the vaccine, particularly those most susceptible to influenza (those at the extremes of age or immune-compromised).

During a pandemic (widespread infections involving large areas such as continents or the whole world) a vast quantity of pandemic specific vaccine is required, which is very difficult to produce at short notice. Just like seasonal flu vaccines, current pandemic vaccines have to be designed based on knowledge of the specific strain causing the pandemic. As a result there is a risk that the population could be overwhelmed by a pandemic before a vaccine can be produced in sufficient quantity to provide protection.

A universal vaccine would provide protective coverage against all strains of influenza, irrespective of geographical variation, ideally for many years, and could save millions of lives.

iQur has now developed a universal flu vaccine, and shown preclinical protection to H1N1 and H3N2 influenza, based on universal antigens present on all influenza A strains.

With funding from a European Commission Framework 7 grant, iQur led the successful Flutcore programme that brought together seven partners representing four European countries, developing a universal flu A vaccine that is now ready for GMP manufacture, Phase I proof of concept and mechanism studies. The technical scientific data have been published in leading science journals and can be found here.

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