World-first trial for universal flu vaccine

October 4, 2017, University of Oxford
World-first trial for universal flu vaccine. Credit: Shutterstock

The world's first widespread human testing of a flu vaccine which researchers hope will protect more over 65-year-olds against influenza has begun in the NHS.

More than 10,000 people aged 65 and over will be asked to take part in a study supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and delivered by the University of Oxford in Berkshire and Oxfordshire. The recruitment target is 500. Researchers believe the could have a major impact on the worldwide fight against the , which affects about a billion people worldwide a year with 250,000 to 500,000 annual deaths, mainly in the over-65 age group. Current vaccines are only effective in 30 to 40 percent of over 65s as the immune system weakens with age and researchers believe the new vaccine could increase this. For those who receive the jab but still get the flu, researchers believe the new vaccine could also reduce the severity and duration of the illness.

It is believed the vaccine will offer a stronger protection against flu because it uses a different mechanism to get the body to protect against the virus. Under the microscope, the flu virus looks like a spherical cushion with lots of pins sticking out of it. The existing flu vaccines use surface proteins that lie on the outside of flu cells – the heads of the pins - to stimulate the body's immune system to produce disease-fighting antibodies. But as the virus changes each year, so do the surface proteins, haemagglutinin and neuraminidase, meaning the needs to change too.

Global scientists therefore have to predict what each new annual strain of flu will look like. Unfortunately, sometimes by the time the vaccine has been made, the strain of virus that is causing illness has changed, and the vaccine doesn't work well. The new vaccine is different as it uses the core proteins of the virus –inside the cushion – instead of the . These core proteins remain virtually unchanged in all influenza A viruses, giving researchers the opportunity to create vaccines that will work against all of them. Humans get infected by both influenza A and B, but it is influenza A that causes the majority of severe illnesses and deaths.

Crucially, the new vaccine stimulates the immune system to boost influenza-specific T-cells, instead of antibodies, that kill the virus as it tries to spread through the body. Everyone has some influenza-specific T cells already, but numbers of them are often too low to be protective. Previous research found that these T-cells can help fight more than one type of , and researchers believe this means more people could be protected and the severity and duration of flu may be reduced.

About 10,000 over 65s registered at six GP practices will be asked to take part in the trial in Berkshire and Oxfordshire this winter. This includes 25 people who will be sought for extra blood tests at the university. They will receive the regular, annual immunisation in combination with the new vaccine, which has successfully undergone safety testing in 145 people, or the regular immunisation and a placebo shot, so the two can be compared. Patients will not be told whether they are receiving the new vaccine or placebo.

The vaccine was developed by Oxford University's Jenner Institute with Vaccitech, a spin-out company from the institute. The study is being sponsored by Vaccitech and managed by the University's Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences with support from the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands, a Department of Health-funded organisation which provides staffing to ensure research studies are run in the health service.

Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at the University and co-founder of Vaccitech, said: "Every year, flu in older adults causes serious illness and sometimes death. We want to improve the situation, but in order to do that we need volunteers to help us test a new vaccine. If you are invited to take part, please consider doing so."

Explore further: Live attenuated flu vaccine not effective for children in 2015-16

More information: For further information on the trial please visit the flu vaccine study trial homepage: www.trialspark.com/trials/flu-study

Related Stories

Live attenuated flu vaccine not effective for children in 2015-16

August 10, 2017
(HealthDay)—During the 2015 to 2016 season, influenza vaccines reduced the risk of influenza illness, but the live attenuated vaccine was ineffective among children 2 to 17 years of age, according to a study published in ...

Experts say flu season could be severe this year

September 22, 2017
If last year's active flu season and this year's severe season in the Southern Hemisphere is any indication of what flu season will look like across the country beginning this fall, then it's important to get vaccinated soon ...

Vaccine strategy induces antibodies that can target multiple influenza viruses

July 22, 2016
Scientists have identified three types of vaccine-induced antibodies that can neutralize diverse strains of influenza virus that infect humans. The discovery will help guide development of a universal influenza vaccine, according ...

Expert advises preparing for flu season now

September 13, 2016
The news that the nasal spray form of the influenza vaccine will not be available this year should not stop anyone from getting vaccinated against the flu virus, according to an expert at Baylor College of Medicine's Influenza ...

FDA approves first 4-in-1 flu vaccine

February 29, 2012
Federal health officials have approved the first vaccine that protects against four strains of the common flu, offering one additional layer of protection against the influenza virus that affects millions each year.

Recommended for you

Ambitious global virome project could mark end of pandemic era

February 23, 2018
Rather than wait for viruses like Ebola, SARS and Zika to become outbreaks that force the world to react, a new global initiative seeks to proactively identify, prepare for and stop viral threats before they become pandemics.

Forecasting antibiotic resistance with a 'weather map' of local data

February 23, 2018
The resistance that infectious microbes have to antibiotics makes it difficult for physicians to confidently select the right drug to treat an infection. And that resistance is dynamic: It changes from year to year and varies ...

Scientists gain new insight on how antibodies interact with widespread respiratory virus

February 22, 2018
Scientists have found and characterized the activity of four antibodies produced by the human immune system that target an important protein found in respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), according to new research published ...

Study reveals how kidney disease happens

February 22, 2018
Monash researchers have solved a mystery, revealing how certain immune cells work together to instigate autoimmune kidney disease.

Past encounters with the flu shape vaccine response

February 20, 2018
New research on why the influenza vaccine was only modestly effective in recent years shows that immune history with the flu influences a person's response to the vaccine.

Building better tiny kidneys to test drugs and help people avoid dialysis

February 16, 2018
A free online kidney atlas built by USC researchers empowers stem cell scientists everywhere to generate more human-like tiny kidneys for testing new drugs and creating renal replacement therapies.

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.