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Flu News Friday 2/19/21

Read the latest on influenza vaccines in this week’s roundup.

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

Universal influenza vaccines or broadly protective influenza vaccines most often target conserved viral epitopes, such as the hemagglutinin (HA) stalk domain, while seasonal influenza vaccines often target the hypervariable HA head domain. Antigenic drift in the HA head is well studied, while antigenic drift in the HA stalk and associated vaccine responses are less studied. The study results suggest while mutations in the HA stalk due to immunological pressure are possible, they do not evade a polyclonal, stalk-based response to a vaccine. The study also adds to the growing literature that a stalk-based vaccine immune response is diverse enough to protect against viruses with HA stalk mutations, giving rise to less of a possibility of viral escape and a more “universal” vaccine.

Timely availability of an effective influenza vaccine will be critical to mitigate the next influenza pandemic. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has re-exposed these gaps in preparedness and response, previous investments into flexible influenza vaccine technologies proved to be critical to accelerate COVID-19 vaccine development. This article reviews the role of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in addressing these challenges for pandemic influenza vaccine preparedness, one of the strategies being the work to develop a universal influenza vaccine. The article emphasizes the importance of sustained funding, as well as interagency and cross-sectoral collaboration to overcome the challenges.

The rapid development and deployment of versatile vaccines and other medical countermeasures are essential, as we have seen during COVID-19 pandemic. In this article, the authors discuss the role of platform vaccines and prototype pathogen research in modern vaccine development. Pathogen prototypes can inform future vaccine design for similar pathogens, and may even lead to the development of universal influenza vaccines or vaccines targeting a conserved antigen. Previous pathogen-specific funding approaches can be improved to be more proactive and adequately promote vaccine R&D for emerging pandemics; this should involve collaboration among all stakeholders in vaccine development and ensuring vaccine investment decisions reflect the social value of preparedness, beyond the market value.

The scramble to update vaccines that have barely been rolled out is now pushing some towards a more ambitious goal: universal “variant-proof” vaccines, able to fend off different varieties of the same virus family. Along with the future possibility of universal influenza vaccines, a jab that protects against all Sars-Cov-2 variants — present and future — might be possible.

This article reviews the current challenges of developing universal influenza vaccines, particularly with respect to refocusing the immune system and antibody response away from the Hemagglutinin (HA) head, to the HA stalk and other alternative targets such as the Neuraminidase (NA) and matrix 2 ectodomain (M2e), in order to elicit broadly protective responses. Focus on these more conserved regions requires strategically overcoming their immunological subdominant role during humoral immunity.

Scientists from the University of Queensland discuss the current efforts toward next-generation influenza vaccines — influenza vaccines that would provide long-lasting, broad protection against pandemic and seasonal influenza strains. The authors review the different types of UIV candidates — including traditional inactivated vaccines, as well as nucleic acid-based vaccines and recombinant vector vaccines. The authors also propose a potentially more “feasible” approach, the addition of new components into existing vaccines to boost the breadth of protection without compromising protection against matched circulating strains.

National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases Funding News / February 17, 2021

National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases Funding News / February 17, 2021