Could a New Universal Influenza Vaccine Provide Longer-Lasting Protection?

A network of research centers was created to develop new universal influenza vaccines intended to protect for a longer period and against a wider range of flu viruses.

The need for such a vaccine has become more urgent to combat the disease on a global scale, according to officials from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which formed the network of research centers.

The Problem with Current Vaccines

While current vaccines are readily available and provide protection against the flu, there is room for improvement, NIH officials say. The most notable drawback of current vaccines is that they only protect against certain strains of the virus. Because of this, each year several months before flu season scientists need to make their best guess as to which strains of the virus will be most in circulation. Moreover, new vaccines must be made, distributed and administered continually to keep up with the constantly evolving virus.

Making these new vaccines takes time, and even they may be rendered ineffective if the targeted virus should undergo minor genetic mutations. It is a constant challenge for the healthcare industry to keep up with the evolution of the viruses, which can occur rapidly, because of the comparatively long timeline for production of the vaccine.

What the Research Network Will Do

The research centers will conduct investigations across a range of disciplines to develop universal vaccines, testing them in preclinical studies and clinical trials, as well as with human subjects. The researchers will also look at ways to improve current seasonal vaccines, testing different ways of administering them, and possible additives that may help enhance immunity.

The research centers will focus on developing new types of vaccines along with ways of administering them, looking particularly at producing vaccines that can protect both healthy people and higher-risk populations such as children and the elderly.

Included in the research group is a statistical, data management, and coordination center, which will design experiments and clinical trials, analyze data, and make the results available in databases open to the public. The program is called the Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICs). It is made up of five member institutions – three that will act as centers for the development of the vaccine, one to manufacture it, and the data management center. The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, Duke University, and the University of Georgia will take on the role of vaccine centers.

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