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expert reaction to paper on potential new mutated flu vaccine

Scientists have published new research on a potential new mutated flu vaccine in Science. 


Prof. Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, said:

“Using some neat genetic engineering, the researchers were able to generate a severely disabled virus that was still able to infect animals without causing symptoms, even at really high doses. Crucially, this virus was able to provoke strong immunity – much better than an existing disabled flu vaccine virus – that could protect against infection by different strains of influenza virus. A vaccine that can produce potent and cross-reactive immunity should be able to protect us against the different strains of virus that emerge in new seasonal influenza epidemics, something that current vaccines struggle to do.

“There’s still lots of work to do in order to progress this exciting development down the vaccine development pipeline. These experiments were performed in laboratory animals  and the proof of the pudding will be how the mutant virus performs in humans, especially those who have been exposed to multiple strains of virus and might already have built up a degree of immunity. This pre-existing immunity may well interfere with the infection of the vaccine virus and therefore impact on how well the vaccine performs. Either way, it was a neat bit of science.”


Prof. Peter Openshaw, President of the British Society for Immunology, & Professor of Experimental Medicine, Imperial College London:

“Vaccines represent an extraordinary success story, saving millions of children from premature death and extending healthy living into old age. However, vaccines could always do with improvement. In particular, the current influenza vaccines have to be changed every year to keep up with the constantly evolving viruses. This game of ‘cat and mouse’ usually results in about 65% protection, but sometimes influenza mutates in unexpected directions. What we need is a universal flu vaccine that gives lasting protection against all current and future strains.

“This publication represents a step change in applying science to what is traditionally a rather empirical area of immunology. It’s not completely novel in that scientists have been taking out components of viruses that disabled the host immune response for several decades, simultaneously weakening the virus and strengthening  the host immune responses.

“This collaborative tour de force between groups in North America and China scanned the whole viral genome to find mutations that can make the virus more sensitive to interferon produced by the host cells. They found residues clustered in unexpected regions of the genome and created a new ‘hypersensitive’ virus with eight mutations. This virus could grow with ease in interferon-deficient cells, but not in the presence of interferon.

“They went on to administer large doses of this disabled virus to ferrets and mice, showing that it was able to induce protective immune response not only against viruses with the same surface proteins (against which antibody is directed), but also against viruses recognised by cross reactive T-cells, suggesting that a vaccine developed in this way might have broad protective effects against diverse influenza viruses.

“This advanced approach combines state of the art virology with incisive immunological techniques, potentially leading to greatly improved vaccines in the future. However, there are many other promising approaches towards the universal influenza vaccine and many hurdles to be overcome moving from pre-clinical through to clinical testing and ultimately to incorporation into standard vaccine schedules.

“The authors are to be congratulated on taking such an ambitious and systematic approach to optimising a vaccine to get round the traditional road blocks. However, this is but the first stage in making a vaccine for use in man.”


* ‘Genome-wide identification of interferon-sensitive mutations enables influenza vaccine design’ by Du et al. published in Science on Thursday 18 January.


All our previous output on this subject can be seen at this weblink:


Declared interests

Prof. Jonathan Ball: No conflicts of interest.

Prof. Peter Openshaw: “Prof Peter Openshaw’s research is funded by the Wellcome Trust, the MRC, BBSRC and the European Union. He has received honoraria or consultancy fees from GSK, Janssen, and Mucosis BV.”

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