OSU researchers point to vaccine-free flu protection

Flu vaccines have grown into a multibillion-dollar business, but researchers at the Ohio State University have published findings that could one day transform the field and put a damper on those figures.

The team found in mouse and human cells that by altering a protein called IFITM3--which targets influenza--the body can form a preventative protection against the virus rather than being reactive. The antiflu protein typically is produced only after the virus is present, but the researchers have shown it can provide protection against infection if produced in large quantities beforehand.

OSU's Jacob Yount

To do this, the OSU researchers inhibited an enzyme called NEDD4 from doing its job of keeping IFITM3 levels low and the antiflu protein began to amass. Senior author Jacob Yount, OSU professor of microbial infection and immunity, said that the flu vaccine has to change yearly because of virus mutations, but the research points to a more fundamental protection against flu.

The research remains in early stages, and the group is now testing the effects of inhibiting NEDD4 at different stages in life. Some findings have shown that the enzyme may be necessary in early life, but the effects of suppressing it in adult life are not fully known. The work was supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and published in PLOS Pathogens.

It's a fundamentally different process for protection than the route taken by flu vaccine producers, who every year change their vaccines to match the strain predicted to circulate. But BiondVax and others are working on a different type of umbrella flu protection: A universal vaccine against all strains. Last week, the Israeli biotech reported that its candidate, administered in a Phase II trial three years ago, provided patients with increased immunogenicity against influenza strains that didn't exist at the time of the study. And last month, NIAID scientists touted their own universal vaccine candidate, which protected 94% of mice from varying lethal doses of influenza A strain infections.

- here's the story from the Ohio State University
- read the findings in PLOS Pathogens
- and the BiondVax release