Researchers studying vaccine to prevent potential bird flu pandemic

September 19, 2013

Scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine's Center for Vaccine Development are part of nationwide vaccine research aimed at protecting adults from a new and virulent strain of avian (bird) influenza (flu) virus. The virus, called H7N9 influenza virus, emerged in China last spring. As of mid-August, 135 confirmed human cases, including 44 deaths, have been reported by the World Health Organization. The study, sponsored by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), will help prepare for the possibility of a global pandemic.

This , first seen in people who came in contact with poultry, has not been reported outside of China and is not easily transmitted from person to person. Nevertheless, changes in the virus may already be underway that could lead to a global H7N9 pandemic, according to the University of Maryland's co-principal investigator, James D. Campbell, M.D., M.S., who says, "There's this virus is mutating toward the possibility of sustained human-to-."

This is a strain of influenza that has not been seen previously in humans. "Immunity is not built up the way it is with most human-type circulating around the globe. More people get sick, and get sicker than usual with new viruses," says Dr. Campbell, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and infectious disease specialist. "This one is totally different from any previous flu virus we know, at least from the early 1900s."

The strength of this strain is another cause for alarm. "If H7N9 stays that pathogenic, but then becomes transmissible, it has the potential to cause a bigger impact than typical seasonal flu," says Dr. Campbell.

The study's principal investigator, Karen L. Kotloff, M.D., says "It's impossible to know with any certainty whether this virus will cause widespread illness as in previous , but we need to be prepared for the possibility." Dr. Kotloff, professor of pediatrics and medicine, is head of infectious disease and tropical pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

The last pandemic occurred in 2009 with the spread of H1N1 influenza, which originated in pigs and spread to people.

The clinical trial is designed to gather critical information about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and immune system responses it induces at different dosages, with and without adjuvants—substances designed to boost the body's immune response to vaccination.

Two concurrent Phase II clinical trials will enroll healthy adults, ages 19 to 64 years old, to evaluate an investigational H7N9 vaccine. The candidate vaccine is made from inactivated H7N9 virus isolated in Shanghai, China, in 2013. Adjuvants are being tested with the investigational vaccine because previous involving other H7 influenza viruses has suggested that vaccine without an adjuvant may not induce an adequate protective immune response.

A panel of independent experts will closely monitor participant safety data at regular intervals throughout the study.

"Whether or not an H7N9 pandemic materializes, vaccine studies such as this provide important experience in ongoing efforts to protect the public against sometimes-deadly influenza viruses," says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "University of Maryland School of Medicine faculty researchers have been part of every similar vaccine study in the last few decades, making significant contributions to preparing the nation for emerging public health threats."

The University of Maryland is one of eight NIAID-funded Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Units (VTEUs) studying the H7N9 candidate vaccine. In addition to the University of Maryland, VTEU sites are Baylor College of Medicine, Houston; Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati; Group Health Cooperative, Seattle; Saint Louis University, St. Louis; University of Iowa, Iowa City; Emory University, Atlanta; and Vanderbilt University, Nashville. Additionally, the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston will be conducting the trial as a subcontractor to Baylor College of Medicine.

Explore further: US health authorities in bird flu vaccine effort

Related Stories

US health authorities in bird flu vaccine effort

April 5, 2013
US health authorities are liaising with domestic and international partners to develop a vaccine for the H7N9 bird flu virus that has killed five people in China.

Bird flu expert working on vaccine that protects against multiple strains

May 10, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—As the bird flu outbreak in China worsens, a Purdue University expert is working on vaccines that offer broader protection against multiple strains of the virus.

Study puts troubling traits of H7N9 avian flu virus on display

July 10, 2013
The emerging H7N9 avian influenza virus responsible for at least 37 deaths in China has qualities that could potentially spark a global outbreak of flu, according to a new study published today (July 10, 2013) in the journal ...

Vaccination may make flu worse if exposed to a second strain

August 30, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study in the U.S. has shown that pigs vaccinated against one strain of influenza were worse off if subsequently infected by a related strain of the virus.

Novel avian influenza A virus has potential for both virulence and transmissibility in humans

September 10, 2013
A new study has found that a novel avian-origin H7N9 influenza A virus, which has recently emerged in humans, attaches moderately or abundantly to the epithelium of both the upper and lower respiratory tracts. This pattern ...

Universal flu vaccine may be a step closer

August 16, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—A new study in the US suggests that boosting a certain group of antibodies could help to create a universal vaccine for influenza.

Recommended for you

Study suggests ending opioid epidemic will take years

July 20, 2017
The question of how to stem the nation's opioid epidemic now has a major detailed response. A new study chaired by University of Virginia School of Law Professor Richard Bonnie provides extensive recommendations for curbing ...

Team-based model reduces prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent

July 17, 2017
A new, team-based, primary care model is decreasing prescription opioid use among patients with chronic pain by 40 percent, according to a new study out of Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine, which ...

Private clinics' peddling of unproven stem cell treatments is unsafe and unethical

July 7, 2017
Stem cell science is an area of medical research that continues to offer great promise. But as this week's paper in Science Translational Medicine highlights, a growing number of clinics around the globe, including in Australia, ...

Popular heartburn drugs linked to higher death risk

July 4, 2017
Popular heartburn drugs called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) have been linked to a variety of health problems, including serious kidney damage, bone fractures and dementia. Now, a new study from Washington University School ...

Most reproductive-age women using opioids also use another substance

June 30, 2017
The majority of reproductive-age and pregnant women who use opioids for non-medical purposes also use at least one other substance, ranging from nicotine or alcohol to cocaine, according to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate ...

At-risk chronic pain patients taper opioids successfully with psychological tools

June 28, 2017
Psychological support and new coping skills are helping patients at high risk of developing chronic pain and long-term, high-dose opioid use taper their opioids and rebuild their lives with activities that are meaningful ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.