AFRI in ACTION: One Shot Fits All for FLU Prevention

One Shot Fits all for FLU Prevention1Every year, epidemiologists at the World Health Organization take educated guesses on which flu virus strains will be prevalent during the winter months. Pharmaceutical companies use this information to develop vaccines and then public health experts basically “cross their fingers” and hope. There is not enough time to stop production and fine tune a new formulation if they predicted wrong.

Complicating matters is the way different flu virus strains can bounce and change unpredictably among people, poultry, and pigs. In 2009, a swine flu outbreak killed more than 280,000 people worldwide after mutating from strains infecting all three species. In 2015, an outbreak of avian flu resulted in the deaths of more than 42 million chickens and 7.5 million turkeys. The virus did not infect people, but nonetheless caused $3.3 billion in damages.

Researchers at Ohio State University and the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, with an AFRI grant, are trying to take the guesswork out of flu vaccine production. They are analyzing a recently discovered protein common to almost all flu strains that reliable triggers immune system responses, two rare traits in the family of flu viruses.

In working with this protein and then adding in other flu protein targets, they hope to produce a universal vaccine to protect people, pigs, and poultry from all flu strains. Vaccine candidates are already being tested for safety and immune responses as well as delivery mechanism by injection or nasal inhaler. If successful, the research will save hundreds of thousands of lives and billions of dollars.