August 05, 2005
Acambis Attempts Universal Flu Vaccine

Acambis thinks they might have a way to build a universal vaccine against the new flu strains that pop up each year.

Cambridge, UK and Cambridge, Massachusetts – 4 August 2005 – Acambis plc (“Acambis") (LSE: ACM, NASDAQ: ACAM) has commenced development of a potentially breakthrough new influenza vaccine that could offer permanent protection against influenza and may also offer protection against influenza pandemics. Influenza vaccines are currently administered annually.

Acambis has entered into a research collaboration and licensing agreement with the Flanders Interuniversity Institute for Biotechnology (“VIB"), a Belgian research institute.

Acambis and VIB will work together to develop a vaccine against both A and B strains of influenza, using Acambis' influenza A vaccine candidate that it acquired from Apovia earlier in the year and additional technology licensed from VIB. Apovia is a US biotechnology company and started development of the influenza A vaccine candidate in 2000, having originally licensed the technology from VIB. Walter Fiers, emeritus professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Ghent, is an inventor of the patent rights licensed from VIB.

The aim of the research collaboration would be to generate a ‘universal' vaccine candidate that would protect against both A and B strains of influenza and, more importantly, would not require annual changes to the formulation. This contrasts with current influenza vaccines that need to be changed, generally each year, to cope with genetic drift, mutations that occur in influenza strains circulating in nature, as well as major genetic shifts that can result in influenza pandemics. The need to change vaccine formulations each year results in delays in initiating vaccine coverage.

Unforunately it sounds like they are not far enough along to offer anything against the H5N1 avian flu strains should avian flu manage to mutate into a form that spreads easily between humans in the next few years.

The appeal here is not just the universality of the vaccine. Their use of baterial fermentation technology addresses the big problem of slow production and poor scaling of today's chicken egg-based influenza vaccine production technology.

The initial vaccine candidate against influenza A is currently in pre-clinical development. It is manufactured using recombinant bacterial fermentation technology, which aims to provide time and cost efficiencies compared with traditional egg-based production methods.

They haven't yet proven their vaccine will be universal but they are hopeful.

Walter Fiers, Professor emeritus, University of Ghent and VIB, said:

“The research and pre-clinical development carried out so far supports the promising potential of a universal, M2e-based influenza vaccine. In view of the conservation of the M2e structure, vaccination against all human influenza virus strains may become possible, even before new epidemics or pandemics have started to spread. Moreover, the vaccine is a recombinant protein with a defined chemical structure which can be rigorously characterised and produced on a large scale. We are pleased to collaborate with Acambis in the further development of this promising vaccine."

Could this vaccine save us from avian flu? If avian flu breaks out into a pandemic could this approach be scaled up rapidly without clinical trials? Even if the vaccine would be risky in an emergency where the alternative is a decent chance of dying from a killer flu a rapid deployment of this vaccine might be worth the risk.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 August 05 10:05 AM  Dangers Natural Bio

Brock said at August 5, 2005 3:19 PM:

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance."

This applies to all biologically derived threats - whether tyrannical or botanical. Let's just hope that as computers, biotech, etc. get faster & better we'll be able to contiune anticipating Nature's next move, and get defenses there first.

Randall Parker said at August 5, 2005 3:26 PM:


Right now we do not have sufficient defenses in place for handling a killer flu pandemic. Now, we might have such defenses 5 years from now. But currently we are highly vulnerable.

gmoke said at August 5, 2005 7:38 PM: seems to be a good place to go to keep up on the possibility of pandemic flues.

They suggest people cough into a tissue and then throw it away. If you can't cough into a tissue, then cough into your arm or your elbow, it may spread fewer germs than coughing into your hands. I guess the advice of the Staples Singers becomes more and more pertinent every year.

gmoke said at August 6, 2005 7:29 PM:

Worldchanging on simulations against the spread of influenza:

"This week, two teams funded by the US National Institutes of Health published the results of detailed computer models of how a human-transmissible form of H5N1 could spread and the best ways to contain that spread. The results were published in Nature and Science, and have been getting abundant attention in the scientific community. Of the two pieces, the article in Nature is more useful, as the full text is available for free.

"'The first step in preventing a pandemic, Ferguson said, is for doctors to quickly recognize that the virus is something unusual and notify government health officials. Then, infected patients should be isolated from other populations. Steps such as closing schools and work places and limiting access to gathering spots should be taken to increase “social distance”—reducing opportunities for infected people to transmit the virus to others. Finally, Ferguson and his colleagues recommend that public health officials treat the 20,000 people closest to the outbreak with anti-viral drugs. It might take a stockpile of as many as 3 million doses of anti-viral treatments to eliminate an outbreak, the scientist said.'

"But such containment is contingent upon some important changes to how we report and handle flu infections:

"Both groups agree that, for a containment strategy to have any hope of working, it must be in place within a few weeks at most of the first people being infected with a virus capable of sustained human-to-human transmission."

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