- New universal vaccine being developed by British and European scientists
- Job would provide lifetime immunity against all flu viruses
- First ever successful human trials have taken place
- Larger trails involving thousands of people now planned
- Researchers believe the new vaccine could be available in 2018
Scientists from Britain and Europe are getting ready to start large-scale trials of a universal vaccine after early tests on humans proved successful.
If all goes to plan the new injection would stop the need for annual flu jabs and could save thousands of lives every year.
It could also be effective against highly dangerous forms of the disease, such as Spanish flu, even if they mutate, preventing global pandemics like the one which killed 100million people in 1918.
Despite carrying out human trials on almost 100 patients over many years, this is the first positive news.
Professor John Oxford, British flu expert and a key researcher of the study, said that his team are ‘wildly enthusiastic’ about the vaccine’s prospects.
The programme has recently received a multi-million pound EU grant to fund its research.
At the moment vaccines work by identifying viruses by their ‘coats’, however as viruses mutate these change, making old vaccines ineffective.
The universal vaccine works by attacking proteins hidden within the virus which are common throughout harmful strains.
The news comes at the end of a week which has seen a new strain of bird flu re-emerge in China and after it was reported to have passed between humans in August.
A 32-year-old woman was said to have died after caring for her father who was infected by the H7N9 strain of bird flu.
Reports of human infection began in March this year but have trailed off in the last few months having killed at least 45 people out of 136 cases.
However as poultry stocks swell ahead of Chinese new year a 35-year-old man in the eastern province of Zhejiang has been hospitalised and the World Health Organisation confirms two more people are in hospital with another 88 being sent home.
A nasal flu spray has also been made available for all children aged between two and three years old, and will eventually be extended into a national programme for all under-16s.
While children are less likely to die from flu compared with the elderly, they are key spreaders of flu, and can become very ill if they have asthma, heart or lung conditions.
While specialists agree that the vaccine could help protect elderly relatives of younger children, Dr Richard Halvorsen disagrees.
Speaking to the Sunday Express, he said: ‘It is rare for children to die from flu and giving extra vaccines a year is a lot of extra vaccinations.’
If trials of the new flu super-jab are successful it could be available for use by 2018.
CATCHING A CHANGING KILLER – THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE VACCINE
Traditional vaccines work by training an immune system to identify a disease and increasing the body’s defences, usually by injecting weak or dead parts of a disease into the patient.
Flu vaccines work by attacking the ‘coat’ of a virus, the H and N protein shell which surrounds the disease.
However this is problematic as this coat changes every time the virus mutates, meaning flu vaccines are only truly effective for a year as the virus will change rapidly, meaning vulnerable patients, such as elderly people, have to have injections every year.
But, hidden within every dangerous strain of influenza, are two proteins known as M and NP proteins which do not change with mutations.
Researches have tried for years to develop a vaccine which could target and attack these parts of the virus, and now think they may have found the solution.
In small human trials they have shown the first successful results ever for a universal vaccine and are now rolling out wider trials of the new medicine.
If these are successful then the new jab could be on the market by 2018, saving thousands of lives each year.