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Flu News Friday 4/23/21

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

Transmission electron micrograph of H1N1 virus particles. Credit: NIAID

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

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Alice Hill and Wayne Koff advocate for investments in fighting climate change in order to mediate the associated risks of future epidemics and adverse health outcomes that affect the most vulnerable. They call for ending the cycle of crisis and complacency, and to focus on studying the human immune system, as the “keys to prevention and control of infectious and noncommunicable diseases.”

Covid fuels the current virus pandemic, but the world is full of flu viruses waiting in the wings. And they keep changing unpredictably. With the recent H5N8 case in humans, the New York Times discusses why H5N8 has more hurdles to jump for sustained human-human transmission, however there is potential for it to adapt and evolve to be able to effectively infect humans. Other viruses such as H7N9 and N5N1 that have already shown danger should be of focus, according to Florian Krammer. The potential for avian virus evolution underscores the need to accelerate the development of universal influenza vaccines to prevent the next pandemic.

Scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center examine the role of co-dominant neutralizing epitopes impacting the durability of immunity by constraining antigenic evolution of the virus. The publication compares the antigenic mutations of measles and influenza, while providing insights for future focus on the antigenic mutability of new viruses, including SARS-CoV-2. As put by the authors, The findings provide evidence that more than just the mutation rate affects viral evolution, and to counter viral evolution and escape, vaccines should focus eliciting neutralizing antibodies targeting multiple epitopes.

This article discusses why we need a broadly protective, universal coronavirus vaccine: not only to stop this pandemic, but to prevent the next one. The article reviews the different approaches and technologies in use to develop such a vaccine. Ideally, this would include all four types of coronaviruses — alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. However, some researchers call for focusing on more incremental steps, focusing on the types associated with human-to-human transmission, alpha and beta.

The Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) received a contract with the National Institutes of Health to develop a broadly reactive, mRNA influenza vaccine. DHVI is part of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers (CIVICs) programCIVICs is a “network of research centers that will work together in a coordinated, multidisciplinary effort to develop more durable, broadly protective and longer-lasting influenza vaccines.”

A next-generation flu vaccine antigen, a hemagglutinin (HA)-based Computationally Optimized Broadly Reactive Antigen (COBRA) was tested for its binding and functional profile of polyclonal and monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) in previous studies. New data was reported in this publication to update findings from the previous studies. The authors conclude the data highlights the efficacy of the COBRA methodology; the COBRA vaccine elicits a broad antibody response against previously circulating seasonal and pandemic strains, as well as currently circulating and emerging flu strains.

Vaccines reviews a Special Issue entitled “Influenza Virus and Vaccine Development.” This issue covers various areas of flu vaccine development that moves beyond traditional approaches, including assay evaluation for immunogenicity, new adjuvants and candidate vaccines, including two studies on DNA influenza vaccines, and lessons from recent influenza pandemics.

mRNA technology is over 40 years old. Both Moderna and Pfizer with BioNTech had access to research on mRNA flu vaccines well before COVID-19 emerged. However, the production and manufacturing capabilities established through the development of SARS-CoV-2 vaccines could accelerate the process of developing and scaling up mRNA vaccine technology for influenza and other viruses.

Scientists from Duke Kunshan University and Duke University review common respiratory virus threats that have the potential for spillover, including influenza. The article details evolutionary perspectives on spillover and efficient human-to-human transmission, as well as current efforts to detect emerging respiratory pathogens. The authors conclude future novel pathogen surveillance approaches need to take a One Health approach, targeting the animal-human interface.

Kawasaki Medical School scientists developed a novel live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) with a specific amino acid mutation that resulted in greater genetic stability and no phenotype reversion. Currently, LAIVs in use are not approved for infants and older populations because of the potential risk of the attenuated strain reverting to virulence. These results provide insights for the development of more stable LAIVs that can be accessed by a broader age range.

The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t the first to devastate the world and it won’t be the last. In a new series, GAVI rounds up emerging infectious threats that have the potential to erupt into global pandemics, including avian influenza, Ebola, yellow fever, Nipah and Chikungunya.