In the global village, it takes barely a day to get to the other side of the world – not just for people, but for germs too. As a result, pandemics can cause much more potential damage today than ever before. If once, distance and species separated people from pandemics — the Bubonic Plague decimated most of central and northern Europe, while eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia were mostly spared — diseases such as bird flu are now worldwide problems, with scientists working overtime to develop vaccines before new and more virulent strains develop.
Now BiondVax, an Israeli life sciences company has come up with a vaccine it says will battle all flus, current and future – and prevent widespread outbreaks of even the most dangerous flu strains, including Swine Flue and Avian (Bird) Flu. In fact, BiondVax says, a newly completed study shows that its universal flu vaccine matches all 6 potentially pandemic flu strains in the world today: H5N1, H5N8, H6N1, H7N7, H7N9 and H10N8.
Influenza, better known as the flu, is an ever-growing and mutating collection of viruses that crops up almost every year, infecting tens of millions all over the world. Flu strains bear names describing their international reach; some of the better known strains include Hong Kong Flu, Wisconsin Flu, Brisbane Flu, and California Flu. Thanks to vaccines, the flu is considered by most people in the West as nothing more than a really bad cold. Nevertheless, one of the worst plagues in history – worse than the Bubonic Plague, in fact – was the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, which killed as many as 100 million people, 5% of the world’s population.
And although scientists have managed to keep a lid on modern strains, like Swine Flu and Avian Flu, the possibility of a mutation that could affect billions is always a possibility. Between 2003 and 2013, for example H5N1 Avian Flu has infected 648 humans; 384 of them died due to the flu or associated complications. Another Avian strain, H7N9 virus, is currently plaguing China; since March 2013, over one-third of those infected have died.
Until BiondVax, researchers developed vaccines for each flu as it popped up – despite the fact that scientists have long known that there were some commonalities between strains, but mutations between them made adapting existing vaccines to new strains impractical. In addition, health authorities could never properly prepare for a flu outbreak in advance, because it was impossible to know which strain would be “in fashion” in any particular season.
Based on ongoing research done at the Weizmann Institute since the mid ’90s, BiondVax, established in 2005, was able to isolate nine linked sections from three flu proteins from different parts of the flu virus that nearly all flu outbreaks over the last 75 years have in common. Called Multimeric-001 (M-001), the vaccine could be administered as a vaccine “primer” at any time of the year, well in advance of a flu outbreak, a company spokesperson said.
“We propose that national governments should stockpile the universal vaccine during inter-pandemic phases to enable preparedness ahead of pandemic outbreak, whatever the emerging strain. A priming immunization can lower the burden of pandemic disease while the pandemic strain-specific vaccine is manufactured.” Even more important, the company said, was time-to-market; it only takes a few weeks to whip up enough vaccine to inoculate everyone in an affected area.
BiondVax went public in 2007, and recently completed advanced Phase 2 studies, having tested M-001 on 440 people, with excellent results, the company said. As a result, it is far ahead in research and development of a T-cell peptide flu vaccine than other companies, and will (the company hopes) be the first to obtain FDA approval for its vaccine. The company has already consulted with the FDA on Phase 3 studies.
In its latest research, said Chief Scientist Tamar Ben-Yedidia, BiondVax has discovered that M-001 can beat all the new “killer” strains of Avian and Swine flu “BiondVax’s vaccine was designed to contain small pieces of the flu virus that do not change as they are required for the virus’s life cycle,” she said. “These small pieces are enough to teach the human immune system to recognize all flu strains, so that the body quickly stops the virus from causing illness. Based on these findings, BiondVax anticipates that the universal vaccine, when the development stage is completed, will be broadly effective against present and future strains in contrast to current vaccines that are strain specific.
“These data are exciting and support the universality of BiondVax’s vaccine against strains emerging in the world, seasonal or pandemic,” she added. “Today as people are constantly traveling, there are no natural borders that stop diseases from spreading across the globe. We need a new kind of flu vaccine that works against all flu strains and BiondVax has the solution in hand.”