Researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center are leading an international effort to develop a universal influenza vaccine that would protect everyone against all strains of the flu anywhere in the world.
Current flu vaccines reduce the risk of influenza by up to 60 percent during seasons when the vaccine is well matched to most circulating strains of the flu. In some years, however, vaccine effectiveness has dropped to 10 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Influenza kills 250,000 to 500,000 people around the world annually. The Universal Influenza Vaccine Initiative, which is being funded by the public-private partnership The Human Vaccines Project, was announced in late October and will be led by James Crowe Jr., MD, director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, and C. Buddy Creech, MD, MPH, associate professor of Pediatrics and director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Research Program in the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases.
The initiative will launch a series of influenza vaccine clinical trials in globally diverse populations beginning early in 2018. Researchers at multiple institutes will conduct a broad spectrum analysis of blood and tissue samples from vaccinated and infected individuals. Coupled with artificial intelligence driven computer simulation models, they will seek to determine why some people are protected against the flu while others are not.
"These trials will be among the most comprehensive human clinical research studies ever undertaken," said Crowe. "Until now, we have lacked the biomedical and computational tools to probe the complex and dynamic features of the human immune system in a complete way," he added. "But with today's technology, we can decipher the core principles behind how the immune system protects vulnerable populations, and develop a full understanding of how it prevents and controls influenza to inform the development of a universally effective vaccine."