Nanoparticle universal flu vaccine “may be up for grabs”

nanoparticle influenza vaccine (Moyan Brenn)

"This is taking us on the road to a universal vaccine"

A research team at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases in the US have published research in Nature that seems promising in bringing us closer towards the holy grail of a universal flu vaccine. The researchers designed self-assembling nanoparticles that elicited broadly neutralizing H1N1 antibodies when injected into mice and ferrets. The team used ferritin and haemagglutinin (HA) from a 1999 strain of H1N1 to create self-assembling nanoparticles, each with a 24-piece ferritin core and eight protruding HA spikes. "We created an entirely new molecule that hasn't been made before," said Gary Nabel, a lead researcher on the work at his former lab. "What's cool is that the whole thing self-assembles."

The nanoparticle vaccine induced haemagglutination inhibition antibody titres 34 times higher in mice and 10 times higher in ferrets compared with a traditional vaccine, and although it was built with HA from the 1999 H1N1 flu strain, the vaccine could also protect ferrets against many other H1N1 strains ranging from viruses circulating in 1934 through to 2007.

"This is taking us on the road to a universal vaccine," said Dr Nabel. He told the BBC: “We think this is a step down the path towards a universal vaccine. It’s not a universal vaccine yet. There’s lots of research in the early phases and this looks as good as anything out there.” Although further testing is needed, the HA-ferritin nanoparticle approach shows promise for development of more broadly protective vaccines for influenza as well as for other infectious diseases (press release).

As Bloomberg points out, the vaccine's intellectual property currently belongs to the NIH and so may be up for grabs. "It needs to get into people," said Dr. Nabel. It's up to the NIH to decide "to which party or parties they want to license it. I don't think the final disposition has been settled." (Bloomberg)

Read more here: Nature News and the journal article.

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