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Scientists Move Closer To a Universal Flu Vaccine 205

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the and-then-came-the-ultra-flu dept.
Hugh Pickens writes writes "Vaccines for most diseases typically work for years or decades but with the flu, next fall it will be time to get another dose. Now Carl Zimmer writes that a flurry of recent studies on the virus has brought some hope for a change as flu experts foresee a time when seasonal flu shots are a thing of the past, replaced by long-lasting vaccines. 'That's the goal: two shots when you're young, and then boosters later in life' says Dr. Gary Nabel, predicting that scientists would reach that goal before long: 'in our lifetime, for sure, unless you're 90 years old.' Today's flu vaccines protect people from the virus by letting them make antibodies in advance but a traditional flu vaccine can protect against only flu viruses with a matching hemagglutinin protein. If a virus evolves a different shape, the antibodies cannot latch on, and it escapes destruction. Scientists have long wondered whether they could escape this evolutionary cycle with a universal flu vaccine that would to attack a part of the virus that changes little from year to year so now researchers are focusing on target antigens which are highly conserved between different influenza A virus subtypes. 'Universal vaccination with universal vaccines would put an end to the threat of global disaster that pandemic influenza can cause,' says Dr. Sara Gilbert."
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Scientists Move Closer To a Universal Flu Vaccine

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  • by StarQuake64 (1136291) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:13AM (#41828809)
    Because I'm currently sneezing my brains out...
  • You first (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jasper160 (2642717) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:14AM (#41828815)
    I will not be on bleeding edge of this. The recent track record of the drug and vaccine approval process has been pretty sorry, let some other guinea pigs live with it a few years first.
    • by aaaaaaargh! (1150173) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:53AM (#41829089)

      Fine, I'll take it any time. Not only do I hate getting the flu, when the deadly avian flu desaster strikes some day, I'd finally like to put all the doomsday scenario survival skills I've practised in video games for years to a test. :-)

      • by ByOhTek (1181381)

        You probably won't get the chance.

        There's probably a VERY good reason these conserved regions are not attacked by antibodies, even though it would be evolutionarily beneficial to do so. About the only good reasons are

        (1) the way antibodies work, it is impossible (if that were the case, this article wouldn't be here for a few more decades - until we have better gene therapy and could change what antibodies can do)
        (2) targeting that site would lead to false positives on things that are more beneficial than th

        • 3) antibodies once constructed would work fine, but the antibody forming process chooses the fast-changing parts of the surface coat for some reason.

          In addition, assuming the vaccine works flawlessly, and you wipe out flu in humans, it will cross over again from the animal population.

          So, we not only have to wipe out flu in humans, but (at least) domestic animals, where a large reservoir exists.
          And then it's going to cross back into the domestic animals from wild infected animals.

          If, as is likely, you get la

        • by Bengie (1121981)
          Or it's just more likely(easier) to be attacked the other way before the "best" way is found. So anyone with a decent immune system will kill it off with the "good" way before ever discovering the "best" way and anyone who's immune system is weak enough to not fight it off the "good" way in time probably doesn't have an immune system strong enough to fight it the "best" way either.

          Evolution isn't about best, just good enough. Best won't ever take over unless it gives an overall advantage, which usually m
        • by Agent0013 (828350)

          Fine, I'll take it any time. Not only do I hate getting the flu, when the deadly avian flu desaster strikes some day, I'd finally like to put all the doomsday scenario survival skills I've practised in video games for years to a test. :-)

          You probably won't get the chance.

          There's probably a VERY good reason these conserved regions are not attacked by antibodies, even though it would be evolutionarily beneficial to do so. About the only good reasons are

          (1) the way antibodies work, it is impossible (if that were the case, this article wouldn't be here for a few more decades - until we have better gene therapy and could change what antibodies can do) (2) targeting that site would lead to false positives on things that are more beneficial than the flu is harmful.

          Plus, some studies have found that getting the regular flu shot has made it more likely you will catch the swine flu [cbslocal.com]. So if you are happy being an experimental Guinea pig, then that is fine by me.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      I will not be on bleeding edge of this.

      That's wise. I was on the bleeding edge of flu shots themselves, back in the early seventies. It wasn't voluntary, I was in the Air Force then. The vaccine gave me the worst case of flu I've ever had, before or since. Needless to say, that was my very first and very last flu shot.

    • The last I heard, this particular universal vaccine does not work very well when injected. The key is to introduce the antigen(s) below the tongue: [sciencedaily.com]

      "Sublingual vaccination with M2 induced immune responses in the lungs of mice whereas the same vaccine administered by injection failed to do so."

      The normal flu vaccines are also available as a nasal aerosol. [flumist.com]

  • by RandomFactor (22447) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:15AM (#41828823)

    So if a one season shot makes your shoulder sore for four or five days, this will....?

    • Re:Extrapolation (Score:4, Informative)

      by DrgnDancer (137700) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:35AM (#41828933) Homepage

      Probably make your arm sore for four or five days? It's not like they're going to be any bigger, it's just changing the composition of the payload.

  • (From TFA, emphasis mine)

    "Several of these have now been taken into clinical development, and this review discusses the progress that has been made, as well as considering the requirements for licensing these new vaccines and how they might be used in the future."

    It just wouldn't be a slashdot story if 'intellectual property' didn't pop up somewhere, now would it?

    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      It just wouldn't be a slashdot story if 'intellectual property' didn't pop up somewhere, now would it?

      Do you really expect them to spend hundreds of millions of $ to develop them and then just give them away for free?

      • Depends on who 'they' are. If it's a private outfit putting up their money in the hopes of developing a marketable product, no, I'd expect to see it priced at whatever premium over the current annual strain-specific vaccines they think that they can get.

        If it's research done by one or more of the assorted state-funded public health medical research institutes or university researchers working under similar grants, then it's already been paid for, and I'd hope to see it being farmed out for production with a

      • by Xest (935314)

        No but on the same note big pharma makes massive profits and it's executives get paid disgustingly high wages.

        So you'll have to excuse me if I think that IP protections sway just a little bit too far in their favour right now because saving lives is kind of a bit more important than executives getting to have a gold plated circle jerk about how much their stock options are worth on the back of the latest financial results.

  • Consider the feedback loop. In response to our actions, the flu itself will change.

    We're already seeing how microbes are developing resistance [asiantribune.com] to antibiotics [wired.com], and how germs acquired during healthcare [medscape.com] are more virulent than those out there in the wild.

    Do we want to incentivize the flu to mutate into something more vicious and fast-acting?

    Sometimes, mother nature represents a balance between extremes. Somewhere between no-flu and a flu that resembles airborne superfast Ebola is the current balance.

    I am not sa

    • So this vaccine could lead to the zombie apocalypse, but with people shuffling around calling out for Nyquil instead of brains?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dinfinity (2300094)

      The gravity of the effects of viruses is not something that will increase due to evolutionary pressure.

      In fact, most viruses have very little use for their host dying or functioning particularly badly. After all, a dead host is pretty bad at spreading the viral RNA or at least worse than one walking around. That is why Ebola is such a fail of a virus and viruses with mild effects are such a success (when looking at population count and age).
      Some would point to HIV as having really bad effects on the host an

    • by Xest (935314)

      It depends how effectively you distribute the vaccine, if you do it in bits and pieces over a spread of many years then yes there is a chance for the virus to mutate into something worse.

      But if you do a nationwide vaccination programme in a year or two, one country at a time, then it has less chance to mutate before it's whiped out.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Shut up. You have no idea what you are talking about. Do you even know that you are comparing apples to oranges?

  • Common Cold next? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by crow (16139) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @08:30AM (#41828899) Homepage Journal

    My understanding is that the Common Cold is based on six virus families, so a similar approach for each family could create a set of vaccines to eliminate colds.

    • by ninjagin (631183)
      Perhaps such an approach could offer more broad-spectrum immunity, but you're still looking at over 200 strains of rhinovirus and coronavirus, and they evolve. What's more, immunity by catching them in the wild isn't necessarily permanent. It was a long time back, but I do recall that the normal person only catches maybe 30-50 different strains of the common cold viruses over a lifetime, and that there are geographic differences in what strains are common in the wild. You may rarely get colds in Georgia, bu
  • by Drathos (1092)

    This just in! Nature moves closer to a flu immune to the "universal" vaccine.

    • However, as others have pointed out, such an "immune flu" might be forced to be much milder by giving up structures which are so necessary that they exist in all flu strains. It's possible that, fifty years down the line, kids (immunized with the universal flu vaccine) might think of "getting the flu" the same way we think of "getting a 24 hour bug" today. You don't feel well for a day and then feel much better (as opposed to today's sick in bed and can't move for a week).

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Things don't evolve if you rip the underpinnings out.
      This is why when using hand sanitizer, you use alcohol based ones.

  • So not only is it effective against the asian and bird flu's, it also works against Martian, Klingon and Vulcan types.

    (And how about The Andromeda Strain ?)

  • Should we be concerned about eliminating pathogens that we have co-evolved with and that help build our immune systems (for those of us that aren't killed by them)? Is there an unintended consequence building up here?

    Or in other words - what could possibly go wrong?

    • The biggest one will be a population explosion combined with inability to feed/water all of these ppl. In fact, if we solve this in the next 2 years, then it will take about 5-10 years to get this around the world. Right in time for food/clean water to hit due to AGW.

      We may trade disease as a major killer to a major war.
  • by meglon (1001833) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @09:56AM (#41829721)
    .... a group of rabid, radical evangelicals are planning a boycott because if their children have a greater chance to live, they have a greater chance to have SEX!!!!!
  • ...and queue the opening credit sequence, the soundtrack, and the scenes of the population being mass innoculated before the "rage virus" mutation overtakes New York.

  • Sure, when I was a kid, I'd get it once a year usually, for a day. Never longer. Haven't had it in like 20 years. Not sure what that means, but I do know it means I don't need to get vaccinated for it. Which works, because corporations like to get rid of old stock, which is never good for the flu that is currently going around. And they'll charge you also. boom! you just paid for last years flu vaccine.

    Got to love capitalism.

  • by jythie (914043) on Wednesday October 31, 2012 @11:42AM (#41830849)
    This vaccine must be stopped.... immunity to flu will just lead to more people socializing without fear of getting sick, and socializing leads to sex!

    Won't someone think of the children? If flu was not keeping those diseased little creatures in check they would be fornicating like bunnies!
  • A few years- maybe even a couple decades of reduced flu.

    Then new versions of the flu which change these sections hit with a vengence.

    Hopefully we can rapidly prototype and produce vaccines by then.

  • flu is in general one of the larger killers in the WORLD. Now, if you take out one of the top killers, what will happen? EVERYBODY lives longer. we are looking at a population explosion. a big one. unless we have food/water issues in better shape, we could be trading one killer (disease) for another (war).

    It would be nice to see ppl like gates quit focusing on health issues and focus instead on creating new tech such as a thorium nuke generator. Likewise, high speed train that can replace many roads woul
  • There is already a universal virus killer in development. And it doesn't target the virus. Instead it targets the cell hosting the virus. When a cell is virus infected it makes a specific protein, a "help I'm infected" RNA flag.

    DRACO is two proteins bound together. When it sees the "help I'm infected" RNA, it breaks in two. Half of DRACO binds to it. The other half is a protein messenger that triggers apoptosis - cell death.

    The end result is that any cell that has a virus in it commits suicide bef

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