Hope for miracle flu jab is nothing to sneeze at
A LEADING University College London professor is confident that his pioneering medical research could lead to the successful development of a vaccine that will protect against any type of flu.
Professor William Rosenberg believes the use of “protein scaffold” technology — where the human immune system is primed to fight off flu — provides a blueprint for the creation of a so-called universal flu vaccine.
The influenza virus is a constantly changing target, meaning that the seasonal flu jabs currently available either become ineffective over time or miss the target completely and fail to stop the illness.
Worldwide annual influenza infections affect three to five million people annually — with up to 500,000 deaths from the disease occurring each year.
A clinical doctor at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, where he leads the viral hepatitis service,
Prof Rosenberg has made the development of new vaccines his major research project.
He said: “I am confident now that we can stop a mouse from dying of flu — but what we need to do is move from stopping mice from dying to making our vaccine work for humans.”
Prof Rosenberg a member of Belsize Square Synagogue, said the succession of failed seasonal vaccines — over the past four years, at least two have failed — has made the manufacture of a universal jab all the more vital. “The problem with influenza is that it is a master of disguise,” he explained. “It can change its coat every single year creating many different strains. He revealed that early phase research has offered positive signs that his approach to the creation of a universal vaccine might be the right one. Working alongside a team of vaccine development experts, the professor is using a protein scaffold to build a particle which carries the influenza proteins. He said: “When we put that particle into the patient their immune system sees it as a virus, but the vaccine itself is much safer than a virus vaccine because it is just a ball of protein.
“The immune system mounts a response to the flu proteins on the surface — and if the vaccinated person then encounters a flu infection, the immune system is primed to fight it off.” The hope is to enter a human clinical trial of the vaccine by the summer of 2018. But funding remains a critical issue. Prof Rosenberg estimates that it will cost around £3 million. “But we are talking about a drug that will be worth billions of pounds if it works,” he said.