One jab could in future protect against all flu strains

Scientists are apparently working on producing a vaccine that could give lifelong protection against all types of flu in one single injection.

During a flu outbreak the most at risk people are the elderly and those who are sick, and they need annual flu jabs; it is of major concern to experts that as yet there is no available jab guaranteed to beat bird flu.

Now biotechnology firm Acambis, in Cambridge, the UK, says it hopes its injection will target numerous mutations that at present allows the flu virus to evade attack.

The work however they say, is in it's very early stages, and years off being tested in humans.

Flu kills around 4,000 people in the UK alone each winter, and between 500,000 and one million people die globally each year from it.

Scientists have been concerned for a long time that if the bird flu virus, currently circulating in Asia, were to mutate and spread from person to person, they warn it could kill as many people as the 1918 Spanish flu, which claimed between 20 and 40 million lives.

At present flu vaccines work by giving immunity to two proteins called haemagglutinin and neuraminidase, which are found on the surface of flu viruses.

These proteins however are continually mutating which means doctors have to keep making new vaccines.

Dr Thomas Monath, chief scientific officer at Acambis, says they aim to avoid the need for annual re-engineering and manufacture of the new product.

The joint efforts of scientists at Acambis' laboratory in the U.S., together with Belgian researchers at Flanders Institute for Biotechnology, are focused on a different protein, called M2, which does not mutate.

They are also working on other technology that they cannot as yet disclose.

Even though the research is in the early stages, the scientists believe, if successful, a single shot of the vaccine could protect a person against all strains of influenza virus.

Dr Monath says that the technology has special importance as a potential means of protecting human populations against pandemic influenza strains.

To date the vaccine has only been tested in animals, and according to the scientists it will be several years before large-scale human trials could be done.

Professor Maria Zambon, a flu expert at the Health Protection Agency, welcomes any advances in the process of developing new flu vaccines and vaccination techniques.

Professor Karl Nicholson, professor of infectious diseases at Leicester University, says it might be 10 years before any such product could be ready for widespread use in humans.

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