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Flu News Friday 3/12/21

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

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

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Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett is the recipient of The Franklin Institute’s NextGen award, an award that recognizes innovation by scientists early in their careers, for her “outstanding contributions to the field of viral immunology and vaccine development, including an mRNA-based vaccine to combat the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.” Dr. Corbett and the team at theNIH VRC have also worked to develop a universal influenza vaccine candidate slated for clinical trials.

University of Georgia researchers Katie Ehrlich, Brad Phillips and Ted Ross were honored with the Presidents’ Award of Distinction for Team Science from the Georgia Clinical and Translational Science Alliance. They received the award for their interdisciplinary collaboration on immune responses to influenza. Cooperation from a variety of disciplines is what we need to accelerate innovation for next-generation and universal influenza vaccines.

Pigs and humans are natural hosts for the same subtypes of the influenza A virus. Frequent interspecies transmission contributes to viral evolution and fitness, and if the right conditions occur, zoonotic spillover can occur. The emergence of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic virus illustrates the importance of pigs in the evolution of zoonotic strains. Scientists of the Pirbright Institute generated influenza-specific monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) from H1N1pdm09 infected pigs. The results indicate pigs as a valuable animal model for monitoring antigenic drift of flu in humans and for the evaluation of antibody delivery platforms.

Public health experts from Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law reflect on lessons learned from SARS-CoV-2 vaccine development and discuss the four policy changes that could speed up the response to the next pandemic. This involves the investment of pan-virus vaccines, including universal influenza vaccines as part of pandemic preparedness.

Scientists from Duke University engineered influenza viral particles to study the contributions of all non-HA antigens for the protection from influenza. The engineered virus contained all viral proteins except the hemagglutinin (HA) protein. The scientists concluded that although anti-HA immunity is important for protecting against vaccine-matched strains, other structural proteins drive protection against drifted, homosubtypic strains. The findings highlight the role of non-HA antigens in the development of long-lasting, broadly protective universal influenza vaccines.

Although H7 influenza viruses in humans are uncommon, there have been six epidemics that warrant concern of this subtype to develop human-to-human transmission and pandemic potential. The purpose of the study was to investigate antigenic differences among influenza A H7 strains and to identify H7 HA proteins that could elicit protective, receptor-blocking antibodies against co-circulating H7 influenza strains. Specific amino acid mutations were identified that could result in vaccine mismatches. The authors conclude that future universal influenza vaccine candidates should take into account viral variants with these key mutations.