End of annual flu shots? Canadian researchers developing one-time vaccine
Karolyn Coorsh, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, November 22, 2016 8:51AM EST
Tired of getting the flu vaccine every year? Thanks to research being conducted at a Canadian university, soon you may not have to.
Researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. are developing a flu vaccine that would be administered only once, eliminating the need for the annual shot.
Dr. Matthew Miller, an assistant professor of biochemistry at McMaster, is part of the team of researchers developing the universal vaccine. The basis of its success, he said, is that it targets an unchanging part of the flu virus.
“The current vaccines that we’re using now essentially have to be remade every year because of the fact that the virus mutates really rapidly,” Miller said in an interview with CTV’s Your Morning on Tuesday.
Humans get sick from the flu when the “hemagglutinin,” the part of the virus that mutates, “locks” into our cells. A typical flu vaccine counteracts this process by forcing the immune system to create antibodies which essentially wrap around the hemagglutinin and prevent them from getting into the cells.
Each hemagglutinin is attached to the virus by a “stalk,” which does not mutate.
The universal vaccine would “teach the immune system” to target that area of the virus that remains constant, essentially eliminating the need for a new vaccine every year, Miller said.
One important benefit of a universal vaccine is that it would protect the global population from flu pandemics. Governments in publicly funded health systems would also save millions on annual vaccines.
It would also eliminate the need to develop and distribute a new vaccine each year, a process that typically takes eight to nine months, according to Miller.
The universal vaccine can be administered the same way as current vaccines: through a shot in the arm or a nasal spray.
But how long will it take before consumers will be able to receive the shot at the doctor’s office?
Miller said pre-clinical trials of the vaccine to date have been “extremely” successful, and he expects that it will be ready for market in five to 10 years.
“Essentially, now all we have to wait for is human clinical trials to start,” he said. “That’s really where the efficacy of this vaccine is going to be tested in a really robust way.”
The implications of the vaccine could travel beyond influenza. Miller said similar strategies are also being used to potentially develop a vaccine against HIV.
“The flu field and the HIV field have really been moving largely in parallel, exploring these new strategies to teach the immune system to find areas of these viruses that don’t change over time,” Miller said.