CureVac, German scientists take aim at faster flu vaccine

When it comes to flu pandemics, making and distributing vaccines quickly is of utmost importance. And now German scientists have developed an RNA vaccine that could cut flu vaccine production time from months to weeks.

Developed by Lothar Stitz of Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut and colleagues, the experimental vaccine is made only of messenger RNA (mRNA), a molecule that carries information telling cells which proteins to make. Tests in mice, ferrets and pigs with an mRNA vaccine yielded immune responses similar to or better than those found with conventional vaccines, Reuters reports. And the vaccine showed high efficacy in both very young and very old animals. The research was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.

The typical flu vaccine is made with fertilized chicken eggs, a process that can take up to 6 months. Novartis ($NVS) recently received FDA approval for a flu vaccine using cell culture technology, but that technique, while faster, only reduces manufacturing time by about 8 to 10 weeks.  

Another benefit of an mRNA flu vaccine? It doesn't need to be refrigerated. This means doses can bypass the expensive and somewhat inconvenient cold-chain.

Still, a human vaccine based on the research is years away. CureVac, a biotech company backed by German investor and business software magnate Dietmar Hopp, will take on the job of moving the vaccine forward. The company is already working on a therapeutic mRNA vaccine for prostate cancer in human trials, Reuters reports.

- see the abstract
- get more from Reuters

Special Report: Top 10 selling flu vaccines of 2012