Duke researchers working to create a universal flu vaccine

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DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — Every year, folks line up to get their flu shots, but those shots aren’t always as effective as they should be.

The solution is a universal flu vaccine and researchers at Duke University are working on that.

But, creating a vaccine that will cover all strains of the flu is going to take time and must be done in steps.

Because current flu vaccines don’t protect against all variations of the virus, every year drug makers have to reformulate the vaccine based on predictions of what is likely to be circulating this flu season—and it’s a guessing game. 

“It’s hard to know what will happen until you get into the season, said Dr. Tony Moody, Director of Duke’s Laboratory of B cell Immunotechnology.

This week, Duke researchers received a $30 million award to start work on creating, testing and manufacturing a universal flu vaccine, but before they can do that—they’ve got to find ways to improve the current flu vaccines.

“We’ve got a bunch of new ideas out there and the goal is to test those ideas and see if we can move the needle forward,” said Dr. Moody.

Duke researchers say they already have several vaccine candidates that will make the shots more effective but before they are tested in humans certain requirements need to be met.

The time between discovery and actual use can sometimes be years and Dr. Moody says a good part of the reason for that is because they “want to make sure the vaccine is effective, safe and can be manufactured.”

Mass producing the vaccine is the key to its success once its been approved.

For the past 15 years, Duke Researchers have worked on a project to make an HIV vaccine. What they learned doing that can be applied to flu vaccines.

“These systems can now rapidly be transferred to the CIVICS (Collaborative Influenza Vaccine Innovation Centers) program to make a universal vaccine,” said Dr. Barton Haynes, Director of Duke’s Human Vaccine Institute.

In the past, vaccines were primary produced in eggs— but it’s a slow process.

The Duke researchers are using modern technology which they say makes their labs look more like a brewery environment.

“It has human cells to produce the vaccine candidates that are of higher quality and better efficacy for humans,” explains Dr. Anthony Johnson.

Before it goes into full production, there are several levels of clinical studies which must take place for a new vaccine.

Phase one makes sure the product is safe. Phase two looks at side effects and effectiveness of the vaccine.

If what takes place in the Duke labs is successful in improving the current flu vaccine, their researchers could get $400-million more in funding which could speed up the process of creating a universal vaccine.

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