Can COVID vaccine technology help make a better flu jab?

Drug manufacturers are rushing to apply the findings about Covid vaccinations to the flu

Drug manufacturers are rushing to apply the findings about Covid vaccinations to the flu.

Winter is coming to the northern hemisphere, and with it the flu season – but advances in the fight against COVID-19 are fueling hopes of finding a more reliable vaccine.

Flu vaccinations have long been available to help stave off the seasonal problems virus, but their effectiveness can vary between 40 and 70 percent.

They work by injecting an inactivated strain of virus into the human to induce immunity. This inactivated virus needs to be prepared well in advance and this can cause problems if the strains do not match.

But now drug makers and laboratories are rushing to apply the knowledge of RNA vaccines to the flu, motivated not only by the potential for more effective, life-saving vaccines but also by the huge profits to be made.

RNA, or Ribonucleic acid, is the lesser-known cousin of DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid, the building block of genes.

Last month, US pharmaceutical company Pfizer began treating people with a. to inject Flu shot uses the messenger RNA (or mRNA) it already uses in its coronavirus vaccine.

Moderna, a US biotech company that uses mRNA to make a competing COVID vaccine, started its own flu vaccination studies in July.

And French drug maker Sanofi has begun trials of a “monovalent” RNA vaccine – meaning it will target a single strain of the virus – and will begin trials of a “tetravalent” vaccine next year.

The immunologist Claude-Agnes Reynaud said that six months earlier Flu season– “We judge which strains circulate the most”.

“Sometimes we are wrong, and this leads to a significant excess of mortality,” said the research director of the French health and medical research institute INSERM.

“The problem with inactivating a virus to make a vaccine is that it can damage certain surface proteins,” she added – and they are the same proteins that do the Immune reaction.

95 percent effective?

Instead of carrying these viral proteins into the body, the lab-generated mRNA instructs human cells to make them so that the immune system can detect and fight a future infection.

The World Health Organization advises vaccine manufacturers on which flu strains to pursue.

“And if it warns of a change in the predominant strains, we can change much faster with RNA technology,” said Jean-Jacques Le Fur, an analyst at Bryan, Garnier & Co.

On this basis, the effectiveness of the vaccines can be increased to up to 95 percent, according to the researcher.

So the race to develop RNA-based flu vaccines is on.

Norbert Pardi, a vaccine specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, used mRNA to formulate multiple antigens in a single vaccine.

Antigens cause the immune system to produce antibodies, and Pardi hopes his approach, which has already been tested in mice, will “induce protection against multiple, different fluids.” Tribes“.

“Such multivalent vaccines are likely to trigger widespread protective immune responses that are superior to the flu vaccines currently in use,” he told AFP.

However, the technology poses additional problems, such as the need to be stored at very low temperatures, as opposed to current flu vaccines, which can be kept in regular refrigerators.

For drug manufacturers, the prospect is of producing an mRNA vaccination Fending off the flu is appealing, says Jamila El Bougrini, biotech specialist at the stock market analyst Invest Securities.

The flu vaccine sales market hit $ 5 billion in 2020 and could reach as much as $ 7 billion this year.

It is “a very attractive market for the large laboratories,” said Bougrini.

France’s Sanofi stops work on an mRNA Covid vaccine

© 2021 AFP

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