Ghent, Belgium -- A universal influenza vaccine that has been pioneered by researchers from VIB and Ghent University is being tested for the first time on humans by the British-American biotech company Acambis. This vaccine is intended to provide protection against all A strains of the virus that causes human influenza, including pandemic strains.
Influenza is an acute infection of the bronchial tubes and is caused by the influenza virus. Flu is probably one of the most underestimated diseases: it is highly contagious and causes people to feel deathly ill. An average of 5% of the worlds population is annually infected with this virus. This leads to 3 to 5 million hospitalizations and 250,000 to 500,000 deaths per year. In Belgium, an average of 1500 people die of flu each year. A more severe flu year - such as the winter of 1989-1990 - claimed in our country 4500 victims. Besides the annual flu epidemics, there is the possibility of a pandemic, which occurs every 10 to 30 years and causes more severe disease symptoms and a higher mortality rate. During the pandemic caused by the Spanish flu in 1918-1919, the number of deaths worldwide even rose to over 50 million.
Why an annual vaccine?
Todays flu vaccines need to be adapted every year and, consequently, they must also be administered again every year. The external structure of the flu virus mutates regularly, giving rise to new strains of flu. Due to these frequent mutations, the virus is able to elude the antibodies that have been built up during a previous infection or vaccination. This is why we run the risk of catching the flu each year and also why a new flu vaccine must be developed each year. A universal flu vaccine that provides broad and lifelong protection - like the vaccines we have for polio, hepatitis B or measles - is not yet available.
Universal flu vaccine
In the 1990s, VIB researchers connected to Ghent University, under
Contact: Evy Vierstraete
VIB, Flanders Interuniversity Institute of Biotechnology