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What COVID-19 revealed about preventing pandemic influenza

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Flu News Friday 6/25/21

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

The Latest in Influenza Vaccines

Conference Announcement: The Eighth ESWI Influenza Conference is December 4th to 7th, 2021. Join colleagues and peers from around the world in Salzburg for the largest conference dedicated to influenza, RSV disease and Covid-19. Register here. Abstracts are due September 3, 2021; submit abstracts here.

Scientists review the recent advances and approaches in lipid nanoparticle (LNP) mRNA vaccines, including modifying the structural features of mRNA to enhance immunogenicity, types of lipids used, routes of administration, and targeting of particular tissues or ligands. The article also discusses the advantages and limitations for using this technology in the future for universal influenza vaccines and other infectious diseases.

Response and mitigation to infectious disease outbreaks, including influenza, requires real-time surveillance and prediction, and machine learning has the potential to fill gaps in the timely reporting of data that cannot be filled by standard health surveillance methods. Scientists evaluate if neural network approaches show improvements in estimating forecasting of influenza-like illness (ILI) activity in the US on city and state levels, compared to current machine learning methods. The neural network approach was found to have greater prediction performance, with substantially greater improvement on the city level.

The evolution of influenza is often described through antigenic drift, where host immune pressure is exerted on highly variable epitopes, such that these epitopes gradually accumulate mutations. Consequently, this decreases a person’s protective immune response to past strains. Scientists discuss a competing theory of influenza evolution, antigenic thrift, where host immune pressure is exerted on less variable epitopes, and epitopes cycle through a limited set of conformations based on population immunity. The article discusses how drift and thrift have implications for the design of broadly protective, universal influenza vaccines.

With the upcoming Northern Hemisphere influenza season and the continued threat of SARS-CoV-2, Novavax scientists evaluated the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of co-administration of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine (NVX-CoV2373) and a licensed seasonal influenza vaccine, as part of their Phase 3 clinical trial of NVX-CoV2373. No interference was observed and immunogenicity was preserved in both vaccines.

The Economist reviews new technologies in the pipeline to fight COVID-19 and increase access to vaccines including a self-amplifying mRNA vaccine platform, nanoparticle supported universal coronavirus vaccines, and freeze drying and drone delivery strategies The self-amplifying mRNA vaccine technology from Imperial College includes genetic instructions to not only produce the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein, but to also produce a polymerase to further replicate the spike protein many times over. This new mRNA platform — if used for SARS-CoV-2 or even flu — could potentially allow for more accessible and globally distributed vaccine manufacturing in resource-constrained countries, as the platform might not require as many raw materials.

Genetic surveillance is a vital part of prevention and control of future pandemics. A virus’s genome is an untapped resource of valuable information: for understanding transmission dynamics and adaptive mutations of viruses, and for the development of vaccines and other biologics. Thanks to next-generation sequencing, genomic epidemiology has emerged as a powerful tool to fighting the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Biden Administration plans to create six Centers of Excellence in Genomic Epidemiology to leverage sequencing and bioinformatics experts from academia to build up state health departments.

The COVID-19 Pandemic exposed gaps in the world’s monitoring and response capabilities for emerging infectious diseases. The authors call to move beyond the cycle of crisis and complacency. Investing to strengthen infectious disease surveillance and response capabilities in public health systems is a vital step, and the authors note the significant potential return on investment. “Smart investments of as little as $5 per person per year globally can help ensure far better preparation for future pandemics.”

STAT discusses the importance of publicly funded, basic research as a critical part of jumpstarting innovation before the private sector develops it. The U.S. National Institute of Health’s support was critical for advancing the SARS-CoV-2 mRNA vaccine, a vaccine that could open up opportunities for new vaccines against other diseases such as influenza. Blumenthal poses,“How many more mRNA-like breakthroughs would be possible if the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases funded one-third or one-half of its grant applications, rather than just one-sixth?”

Scientists used protein design to examine the structural principles giving rise to stabilized recombinant influenza neuraminidase (NA) in the “closed” state. Conformational stabilization was found to improve affinity to protective infection-elicited antibodies, improve temperature-dependent stability, and allow for NA integration into viruses without reducing fitness. These findings are important for the structure-based design and manufacturing of influenza vaccines targeting NA antigens.

Concepts represent early planning stages for initiatives: program announcements, requests for applications, notices of special interest, and solicitations. Concepts reveal possible initiatives or give scientists ideas for an investigator-initiated application.