Getting an influenza shot each year may before long be a thing of the past. Oregon Health and Science University scientists are utilizing grant cash to build up a lifelong influenza vaccine.
A year ago marked 100 years since the deadliest influenza pandemic ever, known as the 1918 flu pandemic. The centennial prodded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to begin the Grand Challenge for Universal Influenza Vaccine Development.
This week, the establishment reported OHSU is among at least six institutions getting a grant. They were selected for their bold and innovative approach to universal vaccines, and now have a shot to impact the world forever.
The university got $1.7 million to build up a lasting and broadly effective influenza immunization that would replace the current once-a-year shot.
“It’s a pretty big deal. This is equivalent to the moon shot from Kennedy and it’s a big goal we’re going to move toward,” said the project’s lead researcher, OHSU professor Dr. Jonah Sacha.
On the off chance that their influenza vaccine demonstrates successful, Dr. Sacha says ‘you’d only have to get it once as a child and it would protect you against all strains of the virus.’
At this moment, it’s a toss-up whether influenza shot will ensure people any given season in light of the fact that the virus changes always.
“You have to get the vaccine every year and sometimes it’s effective, sometimes it’s not for various reasons. And getting a vaccine annually I think erodes people’s confidence in the influenza vaccine but also vaccines overall,” Sacha told KGW. “And so I think having a one-shot, lifelong protection for influenza will do wonders against influenza but also against individuals who feel the influenza vaccine is not effective or worry about them.”
Sacha’s team is already utilizing an innovative platform to make vaccines against HIV and tuberculosis. They will apply a similar methodology toward building up a universal influenza shot since it’s a comparative issue; HIV doesn’t consist of one single virus yet rather an enormous family of closely-related viruses.
“The vaccines we use now generate antibodies, that target those variable surface parts of the virus. We’re actually taking a different approach: We’re going to target the internal proteins of the virus that by its nature are very conserved. And the way we’re doing this is by having an immune response that lives in your lung for life so as soon as influenza comes in your immune system recognizes it and neutralizes it,” Sacha said.
OHSU’s cytomegalovirus-based (CMV) immunization platform has been developed for almost 15 years and will head into human clinical preliminaries very soon. Sacha says if the HIV immunization demonstrates successful in pre-clinical work, it will blaze the trail for a universal flu virus.
“That’s why OHSU was chosen – because we’re extremely well-positioned to test something new and novel and take it into the clinic,” Sacha added.
For the lead specialist, this challenge they’ve set out on hits close to home.
“The flu can be absolutely very dangerous. The reason that I began flu research was back in 2013 I was visiting Australia for an HIV conference and on the way back I got sick with H1N1, Swine Flu. And that, unfortunately, was then transmitted to my wife who was pregnant at the time and my 4-year-old son.”
His child wound up in the crisis room, unresponsive with an extraordinary fever.
“It was really scary, it was terrifying,” Sacha said. “That week in my house was awful and it made me realize we need better vaccines for influenza.”
To continue onward, OHSU will work together with other picked institutions.
The Gates Foundation’s aim is to start clinical preliminaries by 2021 – a goal-timeline, yet an attainable one.
“I really think we have a real shot to come up with something new and novel that could actually impact people’s health across the globe,” Dr. Sacha said. “We may not make it, we may. But we’re going to try our best.”