This RNA vaccine could protect against all flu viruses

This RNA vaccine could protect against all flu viruses

For more than ten years, researchers have been trying to design a universal flu vaccine. The University of Pennsylvania offers a formula containing 20 different flu antigens, which would make it effective against all known flu viruses!

Scott Hensley’s laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania in the United States has just developed a flu vaccine that would protect against 20 different viral strains, ie all those listed to date! Will we one day be able to be protected against seasonal flu, but also pandemic flu, with a single injection?

A vaccine that protects against 20 flu strains at the same time

In autumn and winter, influenza viruses cause a seasonal epidemic that can be fatal in the most vulnerable. To limit the circulation of the virus and deaths, a new vaccine specific to the strains in circulation is developed each year. For a long time, scientists have been trying to offer a universal flu vaccine, that is to say one that would be able to immunize against all viral strains or, at least, the most important in humans. Several approaches have been proposed: a multivalent vaccine that targets the most common influenza A and B strains, or another compound of viral antigens common to all influenza viruses that are not subject to mutations.

Scott Hensley and his team chose the first approach: a multivalent vaccine, but before them, no scientist had tested a formula with 20 different viral antigens. The chosen antigen is haemagglutinin, a surface protein of influenza viruses that is different for each strain. They selected 18 hemagglutinins from influenza A viruses and two from influenza B viruses.

But that’s not all, in the formula, there are not only human viruses, but also viruses that only circulate in animals. The mRNAs containing the genetic information to synthesize these proteins are encapsulated in small drops of lipids, the same principle used for the anti-covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Immunizing against 20 antigens in a single injection would not be possible without mMRA technology.

Protect against future influenza pandemics

This universal influenza vaccine prototype was injected into mice and ferrets, two model animals often used to study influenza. The vaccinated animals developed a strong and specific immune response to the 20 viral strains included in the vaccine. But that’s not all, scientists have shown that animals are also protected from serious illnesses and deaths caused by viral strains that are not present in the starting cocktail. This suggests that this universal vaccine could also protect against pandemic influenza strains that have not yet infected humans.

This universal vaccine could also protect against pandemic influenza strains that have not yet infected humans

The idea here is to have a vaccine that will give people a baseline level of memory immunity against multiple flu strains, so there will be significantly fewer illnesses and deaths when the next flu pandemic hits. We also believe that this vaccine could significantly reduce the risk of developing severe flu. “, explains Scott Hensley.

According to these pre-clinical data presented in Sciencethe vaccine is as effective in animals that have never had the flu as in those that have already been exposed to the virus. Transposed to humans, this suggests that the same vaccine could be administered to children, who are often “naive” for the flu, and to adults. But before crying out for revolution and seeing this “icosavalent” vaccine in pharmacies, it must pass the test of clinical trials on humans. The pre-clinical results provided here are robust enough to continue investigations in this direction.

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