Sanofi Pasteur and the University of Georgia this week talked up details of a next-gen flu vaccine strategy that the pair hopes can build on the strength of current vaccines but broaden protection to avoid the problems associated with strain drift.
Sanofi Pasteur's Dr. Tim Alefantis
The group announced that through the use of novel computationally optimized broadly reactive antigen (COBRA) technology, they have elicited a response against multiple seasonal and pandemic H1N1 influenza virus strains in mice. In an interview with FierceVaccines, Sanofi Pasteur project head Dr. Tim Alefantis said the vaccine technology focuses on the hemagglutinin protein, found in all licensed flu vaccines.
"It really acts by preventing disease spread (rather) than modulating disease," Alefantis said. "It'll prevent you from being infected with antigenically similar strains. Other approaches do tend to focus on non-HA proteins and more disease modulation approaches. When you look at that against the standard of care, sometimes they don't match the efficacy or match the protection that you might see with a standard type of vaccine. So we're really trying to leverage the strength of the current vaccine and use the COBRA technology to increase the breadth."
The team tested 9 candidates, with four providing the broadest hemagglutination-inhibition activity against a panel of 17 H1N1 viruses. They created the vaccines through the genetic sequencing of many flu viruses, building synthetic HA sequences to promote the broad response.
Sanofi announced its universal vaccine research last November, joining a list of companies working on next-gen flu vaccines including Israel-based BiondVax ($BVXV), Wisconsin-based FluGen, Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ), Scripps Research Institute, Vaxart and others.
In other news in the space this week, BiondVax announced that it has completed recruitment in a 224-patient Phase IIb clinical trial of its candidate, M-001. That trial will test the candidate when used ahead of an avian influenza vaccine and is being conducted in conjunction with EU universal vaccine consortium UNISEC.
The U.S. government is also involved in related research. It recently committed $38 million to fund two projects to improve flu vaccines; one will set out to develop a room-temperature stable recombinant flu vaccine while the other will seek to map flu virus changes over time.
While a universal flu vaccine would be a paradigm-shifting development, Sanofi Pasteur VP of R&D John Shiver has said "we believe that a broader-spectrum vaccine could be available first to replace the current seasonal flu vaccine given annually."
Sanofi Pasteur and the University of Georgia published the preclinical results in Journal of Virology.