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Flu News Friday 5/7/21

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

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

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Research teams at NIAID’s Vaccine Research Center and at the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Institute for Protein Design used nanoparticles to make a huge leap towards the goal of a universal flu vaccine. A version of the vaccine has been manufactured with the aim of launching a first-in-humans, Phase 1 clinical trial in the coming weeks. Eventually, if this or one of the several UIV candidates now in development show safety and efficacy, we may one day have to roll up our sleeves just once to gain years of protection from many flu strains.

NPR discusses heterologous vaccination: an approach that mixes different platform or technological approaches to mobilize different parts of the immune system. This approach has been studied for viruses including SARS-CoV-2, influenza, and HIV. While vaccine shortages may be encouraging this ‘mix-and-match’ approach, scientists also believe this approach could enhance immune response to the pathogen, eliciting both humoral and cell-mediated arms of the immune system. The question remains whether industry can be further incentivized to collaborate for such an initiative.

From analyzing large sets of data “generating years of experience in seconds” to helping predict the next pandemic, AI can promote collaboration to problem-solve for humanity. As put by the authors, “the crucial crises confronting humanity are challenges of cooperation: the need for collective action on climate change, on political polarization, on misinformation, on global public health or on other common goods, such as water, soil and clean air…a nudge in the direction of cooperative AI today could enable us to achieve much-needed global cooperation in the future.”

A new World Health Organization hub has been established as a “global platform for pandemic prevention, bringing together various governmental, academic and private sector institutions” says German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The hub will build on existing tools and data networks to improve disease surveillance, particularly on the human-animal interface. It will also focus on addressing inequalities in access to data collection and analytical tools. According to WHO Health Emergencies Program direct Dr. Mike Ryan, “ideally the hub would not only improve data access on a technical level but also build trust and help countries share their insights in order to “generate the insights we need before, during and after pandemics.”

With the possibility of booster shots for SARS-CoV-2 in the future, scientists designed a seasonal vaccine targeting both influenza A and SARS-CoV-2 antigens. The vaccine utilizes a recombinant influenza A viral vector platform to carry an immunogenic domain of the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. For both viruses, the vaccine elicits neutralizing antibodies and provides protection from lethal challenge. The scientists note that this vaccine technology could leverage “established influenza vaccine infrastructure to generate a cost-effective and scalable seasonal vaccine solution for both influenza and coronaviruses.”

7. Apoferritin nanoparticle based dual-antigen influenza conjugate vaccine with potential cross-protective efficacy against heterosubtypic influenza virus [Pre-Proof]
Sheng et al., Particuology / April 28, 2021

Scientists have designed a nanoparticle-based universal influenza vaccine candidate. Advantages of a self-assembling nanoparticle vaccine include the ability for the display of multiple antigen copies and for the potentially enhanced antigen stability and immunogenicity. Three vaccines were compared, a ferritin nanoparticle conjugated to the matrix protein 2 ectodomain (M2e) antigen peptide, to hemagglutinin (HA), or to both M2e and HA. The dual antigen M2e and HA nanoparticle vaccine demonstrated M2e and HA antigen-specific antibodies with a potential cross-effective effect.

A visual test has been developed to differentiate infection of influenza A from SARS-CoV-2. The molecular test utilizes MNAzymes (nucleic acid enzymes) and a gold nanoparticle probe (GNP) and targets conserved portions of each virus. For detecting SARS-CoV-2 positive patients, the sensitivity was 95% and the specificity was 100%. For detecting influenza A positive patients, the sensitivity was 93% and specificity was 100%.

Understanding viral replication kinetics is important for the development of influenza vaccines, yet current methods for studying Influenza A virus (IAV) kinetics to detect multiple RNA species at the same time are laborious. Using total stranded RNA sequencing (RNA-Seq), scientists from the University of Minnesota designed a novel and scalable method for simultaneously characterizing IAV species, called influenza virus enumerator of RNA transcripts (InVERT). Scientists found that different groups of virus genes follow different kinetics and hope this tool can elucidate key features of IAV replication.

Notice of Special Interest (NOSI): Administrative Supplements to Support Collaborations to Improve the AI/ML-Readiness of NIH-Supported Data
National Institutes of Health / First Available Due Date May 26, 2021