Health & Science

UTMB Scientists Developing Flu Vaccine That Will Last 5-10 Years

New long-lasting vaccine would save money and make immunization campaigns easier.

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Scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston have received a $4.4 million grant to develop the long-lasting influenza vaccine, which will save money and make immunizations campaigns easier.

The research team at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston got the $4.4 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"The goal of our strategy is to completely change the way we vaccinate against flu," said Dr. Slobodan Paessler, a pathology professor and one of the lead investigators.

The current flu shot must be reformulated every year, to keep up with the rapidly mutating virus.

That vaccine stimulates B-cells to create antibodies to the flu, that then circulate in the human body.

Paessler explained his version of a new type of vaccine would focus less on creating antibodies and more on "training" T-cells to recognize the virus.

"These T cells would be able to recognize many flus from the past, current flus, and potential flus that would pop up in the future," he said.

The vaccine would expose T-cells to many different markers, from parts of the virus that don't mutate as rapidly. So the effects of the vaccination would last longer, possibly five or ten years.

It would also eliminate some of the guess work of vaccine formulation. Right now scientists must predict months in advance which three or four flu strains will circulate most broadly each winter, and sometimes they're wrong.

"In 6-9 months, and that has happened several times in the past, the virus can either change, or a new virus can become dominant in the world," Paessler said.

If this sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard of this concept before.

Four years ago, we reported on a different scientist at UTMB who was also working on a long-acting flu vaccine. Dr. Christine Turley and her team had received $9.5 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

According to officials at UTMB, an early trial looked promising, but the experimental vaccine didn't work out in the long run. (Turley has since left the university.)

Paessler said his experimental approach is different. He is developing the vaccine with the Etubics Corporation, a Seattle-based biotechnology company

He said it's critical to try again, because thousands of people die of flu every year, just in the U.S.

He says a less-frequent vaccine would save a lot of money and time, particularly in developing countries where public health resources are scarce.

"I'm not sure how the vaccine company would look at it if they sell it only ‘once in a lifetime,' as they say, but I think for the hospital environment in our country, for public health, it would save a lot of money."

Paessler first has to continue testing his ideas in lab animals such as mice and ferrets. He hopes to start human clinical trials in five years.

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