If successful, one shot could inoculate for life

Researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch are working to create a universal flu vaccine — one that could eliminate the need for an annual flu shot.

If approved for general use, the vaccine would be a public health breakthrough not only in preventing influenza in the United States but most importantly in the developing world, where the virus can have much more devastating effects due to the challenge of vaccinating these populations every year.

Thanks to a $4.4 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, UTMB researchers and Seattle-based biotechnology company Etubics Corporation plan to construct, produce and test a vaccine containing various antigens of the A and B strains of influenza.

If successful, clinicians could have a vaccine that recognizes all influenza viruses, not just a single type, ready for patients within five years, according to Dr. Frank Jones, chairman and chief executive officer of Etubics.

Co-principal investigator Dr. Slobodan Paessler, a professor in the UTMB Department of Pathology and director of the Preclinical Studies Core in the Galveston National Laboratory, said that UTMB has one of the most comprehensive university-based vaccine development programs in the world.

“UTMB also has broad capabilities in the area of vaccine development and infectious diseases,” he said. “We believe these resources provide an excellent infrastructure to support this project as it moves forward through the vaccine development pathway to ultimately become a licensed vaccine.”

Vaccine development is one of the most ambitious of scientific undertakings, often taking several years and at least a half billion dollars for a vaccine to go from the lab to clinical trials to common use. There are only about 50 vaccines approved worldwide today.

UTMB researchers have earned worldwide recognition for their contributions to the field, and today are focusing on developing vaccines not only for infectious diseases but also aging-related chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.