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Flu News Friday 2/5/21

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

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

Katherine Wu, The Atlantic, / February 4, 2021

This winter has been an extraordinarily quiet flu season. While the coronavirus has surged, seasonal influenza and other respiratory viruses have flickered out. Scientists aren’t sure the silence will last. This article discusses the implications of a quiet flu season — scientific, immunological and social — and the inevitability of the next pandemic strain.

Mezhenskaya et al., Biomedicines / February 1, 2020

Different strategies of eliciting immune responses against conserved portions of influenza virus proteins are being developed worldwide due to the wavering effectiveness of seasonal influenza vaccines. Scientists constructed a universal, live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) candidate with enhanced breadth of protection by modifying H7N9 LAIV and incorporating four epitopes of M2 protein into its hemagglutinin (HA) molecule. The recombinant H7N9+4M2e vaccine induced anti-M2e antibody responses and demonstrated increased protection against heterosubtypic challenge viruses in direct and serum passive protection studies, compared to the classical H7N9 LAIV. The study results suggest the H7N9+4M2e warrants further investigation in pre-clinical and phase 1 clinical trials as a UIV.

Stephen Salzberg, Forbes / February 1, 2020

Now that we know that RNA vaccines work, what’s stopping us from designing and deploying this technology for many other infections that we don’t yet have under control? This article discusses RNA vaccine applications for influenza, that could replace a decades-old, costly platform for seasonal influenza vaccines.

Jillian Kramer, National Geographic / January 29, 2021

In the wake of clinical successes, some experts are hopeful the mRNA technology behind early coronavirus vaccines could also deliver universal vaccines against pathogens from influenza to HIV, or fighting multiple pathogens in a single shot by targeting conserved sequences.

American Medical Association / January 29, 2020

The author of the #1 New York Times best-seller, “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” is a sought-after expert on influenza preparedness and response. He talks about lessons learned from the 1918 pandemic and how it compares to COVID-19.

Schmidt & Lapuente, Viruses / January 28, 2021

Current influenza vaccines rely on the induction of strain-specific neutralizing antibodies, which leaves the population vulnerable to drifted seasonal or newly emerged pandemic strains. Therefore, universal flu vaccine approaches that induce broad immunity against conserved parts of influenza have top priority in research, such as those that involve T cells. This review summarizes recent influenza vaccine strategies and their shortcomings, the potential of cross-reactive T cell responses in flu immunity, and the remaining challenges for the clinical use of T cell-evoking influenza vaccines.

Patricia Foster, The Conversation / January 27, 2021

A one-and-done universal vaccine that would provide lasting immunity over multiple flu seasons and protect against a variety of strains has been a long-term goal for scientists. Researchers are now one step closer to hitting that target. A team of scientists led by Florian Krammer at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai just completed the first human clinical trial of what they hope will be a universal flu vaccine. The scientists used recombinant genetic technology to fool the immune system into attacking a part of the virus that does not change so fast and is common among different strains.

Han et al., Cell Reports / January 26, 2021

Novel influenza A virus strains elicit immune responses to conserved epitopes, making them favorable antigenic choices for universal influenza virus vaccines. Vaccines containing novel influenza strains such as H5N1 are promising candidates for boosting broadly cross-reactive antibody responses in humans. Han et al. structurally characterize immunity after H5N1 vaccination in a human cohort over time, identifying polyclonal antibodies that target neutralizing sites on H5N1 or cross-react with other influenza viruses.

Jang & Ross, bioRxiv / January 25, 2021

This study aimed to investigate the antigenic differences of H7 influenza HA proteins that co-circulated in humans over the last two decades. Scientists identified key amino acid mutations that result in severe vaccine mismatches for future H7 epidemics. Future universal influenza vaccine candidates are recommended to focus on viral variants with these key mutations.

Anne Trafton, MIT News Office / January 14, 2020

In a study published in Science, MIT researchers have now devised a new way to look at viral escape using AI, based on models that were originally developed to analyze language. Using this computational system, researchers can identify viral protein sequences that could make better vaccine targets. “Viral escape of the surface protein of influenza… are responsible for the fact that we don’t have a universal flu vaccine.” says Bonnie Berger of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.